Having a stem cell transplant can be an intense and stressful time for everyone involved – including your partner, family and friends. Even as you start your recovery, you might find that people react to you differently and the dynamics of your relationships with people change. It’s common to find the roles and responsibilities within your family environment shift, too.
You will probably go through a period when you need to rely on the help and support of others. Adjusting to this lack of independence can be challenging, particularly if you can’t support others like you used to. It might be more difficult to deal with other people’s problems during this time – but that’s completely normal and understandable.
This section looks at the relationships you have with your family and how they might change during your recovery. This will hopefully make you feel more confident with any challenging situations that could arise.
While you’re coming to terms with the changes in your life, the people closest to you will be going through a similar process – they may need their own support too. We have more information and advice for carers in our parents, partners and friends section.
‘It's made us closer in many ways which is positive. I'm a lot more protective over him though, which is probably annoying! I worry about him. Nearly two years on. I worry.'
Victoria, whose husband Alex had a stem cell transplant in 2015. You can read about her experience as a carer in our blog
It can be hard to work out why relationships succeed or struggle at the best of times, and your stem cell transplant could make your relationship more complicated. For some couples, a situation like this brings them closer together as they support each other through their difficulties. But there could be times when the stress and anxiety that surrounds a transplant puts a strain on the relationship too.
If you are concerned about your relationship and you feel like you need some help with resolving your problems, have a chat with your medical team. They will be able to put you in contact with a counsellor who you can talk to, either with or without your partner.
Our sex and relationships section has more information and advice for anyone who is having concerns about their relationship or sex life after transplant.
As a young adult, your relationship with your parents can become strained. It’s completely natural because you are starting to gain a sense of independence and rely on them less.
Unfortunately, your parents are probably feeling the exact opposite right now because of your medical condition. Their natural response is to protect their child from harm. They may go too far and become over-protective, perhaps nagging you to take your medicines or stopping you from going out in case you overdo it.
This can be a recipe for disaster, and you might find you argue with them more often. Rows are usually caused by breakdowns in communication, so it’s important to understand how to negotiate and compromise. Remember that even though they might be putting on a brave face, at times your parents are probably very stressed and worried for you. This can make it more difficult to listen and to see your point of view.
Your parents aren’t mind readers, so tell them what you need and what you would like to happen without causing confrontation. However, this goes both ways – if they are insisting on something you don’t agree with, try to see their point of view and suggest compromises.
There is more advice and information in our Young person's guide to the stem cell transplant journey.
Whether you’re really close to your sister or argue with your little brother, your transplant will have a big effect on your siblings. Hopefully it will make the bond between you even stronger – but it might be a source of some friction.
Your sibling might have donated their stem cells for your transplant. They obviously did this because they wanted to help, but it can be a stressful situation for them too. All siblings worry if their brother or sister’s transplant is going to be a success – but some of them feel guilty or even responsible if it’s not.
Our Donating to your relative booklet has been put together to help them work through these feelings.
Even if you didn’t receive your stem cells from your sibling, it’s still a tough time for them. They may be disappointed, frustrated or even angry they weren’t able to be your donor. They may also feel unimportant and a little forgotten, especially if they are young and other family members focus on you and your recovery most of the time.
‘My parents were worrying about me and my sister was completely on her own. Then she got in her head that she had to be strong because she did not want them to worry about her.'
Kate, who had a stem cell transplant in 2015
It’s likely you’ll make new friends on your transplant journey. Friendships like these support you in ways that other friends and family might struggle with, because they are experiencing the same thing as you. For that reason, many people form deep, life-long friendships during this time.
While you’re recovering from your transplant, it can sometimes be difficult to keep in contact with your long-term friends. In the early stages of recovery you might have to limit the amount of time you spend with friends due to concerns about getting an infection, for example.
Some friends will continue to make you laugh and help to support you, but others may find it more difficult. You might find that your relationships with some friends change and become a little awkward. This is often because they are uncomfortable with the situation and worry about saying the wrong thing. If you notice this and feel comfortable doing it, try to encourage your friends to be open and to ask questions about things they don’t understand.
‘At first, I didn't want my friends to know, but now I understand that the community of people you are in is important too.'
Kate, who had a stem cell transplant in 2015
If you have young children or grandchildren, you may be unsure about how to talk to them about stem cell transplants and life afterwards. It’s generally a good idea to let children know what is happening, but in language they will understand. That’s why we’ve produced Lucy and the good soldiers, an illustrated storybook that explains stem cell transplants for children.
Macmillan Cancer Support also offers more information about talking to children about cancer.
‘My children were at very vunerable ages, eight and seven. It was important for me to explain that I was unwell, but that the doctors were going to do what they could to make me better. They took it in their stride and continued with life as normal.'
Watch Johnny's video on his transplant experience
Information published: 13/11/18
Next review due: 13/11/21