Support for others

The ripple effect of secondary breast cancer

This section is designed to provide information and support to those affected by someone they know or love being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer.

If you are living with a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer and feel that someone in your life needs some support, whether your family and friends, employers and colleagues or even your children’s teachers, please direct them here.

What should I know?

If you are visiting this page, it is likely you have been affected by the diagnosis of a loved one, friend or colleague with secondary breast cancer. Finding out more about secondary breast cancer can help you to feel more able to support this person and to understand what they are going through.

You may also feel that you need some support yourself. Seeing someone you love, care for or work alongside going through secondary breast cancer can be extremely difficult but there is lots of support out there to help people in your situation.

In this section, we use the term ‘loved one’. This is intended to mean a family member, partner, friend, neighbour, colleague…anyone that you care about, whose situation has prompted you to seek information and support.

Here, we provide you with the knowledge you need to understand what your loved one is going through, how you can support them and how you can also seek support yourself.

Our section for children and teenagers lists a range of resources for loved ones to direct them towards.

We also have sections for employers and General Practitioners who are looking for guidance on how to better support women living with secondary breast cancer, and for teachers looking to support pupils through a family member’s diagnosis.

In this section

Secondary breast cancer: The facts

Breast Cancer Now have developed an animation explaining how secondary breast cancer develops. Watch it here.

  • When breast cancer spreads from the breast to another part of the body, it is called secondary, metastatic or stage IV breast cancer.
  • Secondary breast cancer cannot be ‘beaten’, cured or overcome, but women can live well with their cancer.
  • Treatment is continuous. Unlike primary breast cancer, women with secondary breast cancer won’t have a course of treatment that they then finish. They will carry on with a treatment until it stops working, at which point their doctor will explore other treatment options with them.
  • The treatments we have help to control the cancer so that women can live for as long as possible, and live as well as possible, with their cancer. However, they often cause lots of side-effects.
  • Secondary breast cancer is not the same as ‘terminal’ cancer. Women with secondary breast cancer can live for a number of years with their disease. The word ‘terminal’ usually refers to cancer in its final, end of life stage.

For further information, please see our section Secondary breast cancer explained.

How to support someone with secondary breast cancer

Whatever your relationship with one another, it can be difficult to know how best to support someone who is going through a diagnosis or living with the reality of secondary breast cancer.

Understand. Women often find that there is much more understanding and awareness of primary breast cancer than there is of secondary breast cancer. In fact, before their diagnosis, they may never have come across this before themselves either. It can be stressful and draining to continually have to explain secondary breast cancer to others. In having an understanding of the disease, and spreading this awareness, you are likely to feel better able to understand what your loved one is going through and they may feel more comforted and at ease to know that you have this understanding.

Listen. Simply offering to listen can be the greatest source of support and may help your loved one to feel that they are not alone in dealing with everything. This can also help to bring you closer together.

Respond. Be proactive in offering practical support. There is likely to be a shift in roles and responsibilities, both in families and friendship groups, when a loved one is diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. Your loved one may worry about being a burden and may not want to reach out for help. With so much to manage in secondary breast cancer, physically, emotionally and practically, simple offers of help such as driving or accompanying your loved one to an appointment, doing some shopping or making dinner can make a huge difference to how they are feeling and help them to feel more able to cope and to continue with normality as much as possible.

Be self-aware. Recognise when your own feelings or reactions may be difficult for your loved one to deal with. Some women with secondary breast cancer describe feeling as though managing other peoples’ emotions and reactions to their diagnosis becomes an added burden, which is very hard to manage on top of everything they are going through themselves.

Breast Cancer Now share a story of two friends & their supportive relationship which you may find helpful when considering how best to support your own friend or loved one.

Macmillan also have a wide range of information and guidance for family and friends.

When a loved one is diagnosed with secondary breast cancer: Sources of support for you

There are lots of different sources of support for people who have been affected by someone they care about being diagnosed with breast cancer.

You are not alone so don’t be afraid or feel ashamed to reach out.

Talking therapies

Talking about your feelings can help you to process and manage them, allowing you to feel more able to cope yourself and to support your loved one.  Counselling can be a great opportunity to talk through things that you might not feel able or ready to share with loved ones. A counsellor will be able to guide you through these emotions. Breast Cancer Haven offer 4 hours counselling for family and close friends of people diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dealing with your loved one’s diagnosis and the thought of losing them may have led to you feeling anxious, low in mood or depressed. Counselling and other talking therapies can help you to manage and overcome these feelings. The NHS website has a range of further information on counselling and talking therapies and how you can access these services.

You may feel more comfortable speaking to your GP first. They too will be able to guide you towards further support if needed.

Support groups & reaching out

Maggie’s centres are warm and welcoming spaces which provide free social, emotional and practical support for anyone diagnosed with cancer and their family and friends. These centres, located across the UK, hold support groups specifically for family and friends.

They also offer a 6-week course specifically for family, friends or anyone who is caring for someone with cancer, covering topics such as treatment and side effects, the emotional impact of cancer and relaxation and stress management techniques.

Less informally, Maggie’s centres also encourage anyone to simply drop in for a chat.

Find your local Maggie’s centre by visiting their website.

Lots of support groups for women with secondary breast cancer also welcome members to bring along someone close to them. Speak to your loved one to see if they would be happy for you to attend together and check in with their support group first. Hearing other people talking about their experiences of cancer, either themselves or loved ones, may help you to find new ways of coping or to put your own experiences into perspective. You can find support groups specifically for family and loved ones of people living with cancer in your local area by searching Macmillan’s website or by calling their support line. Their experts are happy to advise you on sources of support local to you.

Breast Cancer Now and Macmillan both have support lines which are answered by expert professionals. They welcome phone calls and questions from anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis, including family and loved ones.

Web resources

Macmillan have a range of information on their website specifically for those affected by a cancer diagnosis in someone close to them.

There are also a wide range of online support groups and forums, such as Breast Cancer Now’s and Macmillan’s, where family and friends are able to support one another and share experiences of loved ones being diagnosed and living with cancer.

Maggie’s centres also have an online community which welcomes family and friends of people diagnosed with any cancer.

Though these discussions are not necessarily always specific to secondary breast cancer, you may find some useful advice, practical information or find that you can take comfort and learn from the experiences of others.

For more secondary breast cancer specific questions, you may find Macmillan’s ‘ask an expert’ and Breast Cancer Now’s ‘Ask our nurses’ facilities on their website to be really helpful in putting your mind at ease, particularly if there is something you feel you can’t ask or worry your loved one about.

Support for professionals: Employers, teachers & General Practitioners (GPs)

Support for employers

As an employer, you may be wondering what you can do to better support an employee or fellow colleague who is living with secondary breast cancer.

Being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, though completely life-changing, does not necessarily mean that work is no longer a priority.

Many women are not financially able to give up work. Indeed, having a life limiting diagnosis may mean that work becomes even more essential, as she and her family struggle to deal with the financial strain and worries for the future which are brought by this uncertain prognosis.

For some women, continuing to work is an essential part of them being able to cope with their diagnosis. Through carrying on with their job, they are able to hold on to a sense of normality and routine amidst the chaos of appointments and treatments. Remaining in work can provide much needed stability and social interaction, as well as income and a sense of purpose.

What do women need from you, the employer?

This may be the first employee or colleague you have come across with secondary breast cancer. However, approximately 35 000 women are living with secondary breast cancer in the UK.

In fact, Macmillan estimate that 890 000 people of a working age are currently living with cancer in the UK.

Supporting employees to work whilst living with cancer is therefore a major concern for all workplaces.

Understanding. Take a look at Secondary breast cancer: The facts as well as our section Secondary breast cancer explained. Knowing exactly what is happening for your employee and having an idea of what they are going through will give you a better understanding of how it is likely to be affecting them in the workplace.

Time. Secondary breast cancer is a huge time burden. Not only does it limit the time women have to live their lives, it also takes a lot of time to manage in the present. Allowing flexible working hours can help women to fit work around their treatments, appointments and energy levels. This is likely to increase their productivity and motivation.

Adjustment. As an employer, you are required by law to make reasonable adjustments to support your employees to continue to work in their role whilst living with cancer. These can be very simple changes, such as arranging a phased return to work, allowing your employee to work from home, providing some additional equipment to help them in their role or permitting them take extra breaks. It is important to have a discussion with your employee and to come to a shared agreement of the changes that are needed. Seeking expert advice from occupational health professionals may also help you in this process. These are trained doctors or nurses who are experts in health in the workplace. If your organisation or place of work does not have an occupational advisor, there is a government sponsored service called Fit for Work which is able to provide access to these experts. Their advisors are available where an employee has been off work for more than four weeks or is likely to be off work for more than four weeks. Macmillan provide further information on the support they offer and how to contact them, as well as other providers of occupational health support.

For employers in Scotland, Healthy Work Lives provides this service.

Access to Work is another government programme which is able to provide support to you and your employee. They offer advice and practical support to cover some of the costs of health related adjustments. Their service is available in England, Scotland and Wales. Employers in Northern Ireland should visit the NI Direct government website.

Action. Demonstrate your support through positive actions in the workplace. Ensuring policies are up to date, for things such as sickness, long-term conditions and health & well-being, can support and empower employees living with cancer now and in the future. Educating your employees and raising awareness of cancer in the workplace can also help to create a more supportive environment for everyone.

Macmillan have a vast range of information and resources to guide employers in supporting employees with cancer in the workplace.

As well as a breadth of information for employers, they also have a list of top tips for line managers.

Working With Cancer also provide a range of coaching and guidance for employers looking to better support their employees.

Support for teachers

As well as raising awareness of breast cancer with your classes, you may be looking to support a pupil whose family member has been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. Understanding secondary breast cancer and what their loved one is going through can help you to have a better idea of how this is likely to be impacting your pupil’s mental well-being and learning.

Communication. Checking in with the pupil’s parents or carers about how much their young person knows, how they feel the diagnosis is affecting them and whether they are happy for secondary breast cancer to be talked about at school can help to establish supportive relationships between school and family and the keep the channels of communication open.

Liaison. Involving colleagues who may be able to provide more tailored or one to one support (where available), such as peer mentors, pastoral support or special educational needs professionals may help your pupil’s emotional needs to be addressed and the impact on their learning and progression to be minimised.

Provisions. Small provisions, such as allowing your pupil to signal to you if they are feeling distressed and to be able to step outside the classroom or go to a safe space, without having to voice this in front of their peers, can make a huge difference. This can help them to feel more in control and able to manage on more difficult days, such as when their loved one is having treatment, awaiting a scan result, is struggling with side effects or has had some bad news.

Spreading awareness. Experiencing the impact of secondary breast cancer through a pupil or pupils may have prompted you to discuss cancer with the rest of your students or classes. Many of them area also likely to have experienced cancer in their family. Encouraging conversations and learning about cancer can help young people to feel collectively supported, less isolated and able to ask questions.

Useful resources is a website that brings together a vast range of videos of patients’ experiences of many different health conditions, including cancer.

The Fruit Fly Collective is an organisation which provides a range of information and resources for teachers and parents looking to explain and explore cancer with children and young people.

Support for General Practitioners

Around 30% of women with primary breast cancer will later go on to develop secondary breast cancer. In the UK, this is estimated to equate to around 35 000 people and improved treatments means that they are now living longer with incurable disease. The primary care setting is key to their ongoing care, from diagnosis to end of life.

The following information details the key areas where GPs are able to offer patients living with secondary breast cancer invaluable support.

Support in diagnosis

As was widely reported in the media, Breast Cancer Now’s recent survey found that, of around 2,100 women questioned, 23% had visited their GP with symptoms of metastasis three or more times before receiving a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. Around 20% had been treated for another condition before being told that their symptoms were due to the spread of their breast cancer.

As a result, there have been calls for GPs to be more aware of symptoms of possible metastatic disease in patients with a history of primary breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Now have created the useful infographic of red flag signs & symptoms below:

Support in living with secondary breast cancer

Women may present to the primary care setting for a wide range of reasons when managing secondary breast cancer. As well as support in managing physical symptoms such as pain and nausea, they may look to their GP for more holistic care needs.

If they do not have access to a Clinical Nurse Specialist, as is the case for many women in the UK, they may seek guidance on where to access psychological support, advice on sexual health and well-being, support for their family and loved ones or information relating to employment and benefits in the primary care setting.

Our website may be a useful resource to direct your patients towards, alongside your usual referral pathways. Our Signposting section in particular lists a wide range of resources and services specific to women living with secondary breast cancer.

Support in advance care planning

Primary care professionals also have a key role in supporting women and their families to plan ahead and make decisions about their future care, should their health deteriorate.

Macmillan have compiled a list of things to be considered when discussing advance care planning with patients in the primary care setting.

Support for partners

As the partner of someone who has been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, you are likely to be going through many difficult emotions.

Different people react and respond very differently to the news that the person they love is seriously ill. There is no right or wrong response. You are likely to be feeling very concerned and worried for the person you deeply care for but also scared and devastated about the prospect of facing your life without them.

This can be even more difficult if you have children together as you try to face the reality of them losing a parent, and the need for you to one day take on the role of both.

You are not alone in having these thoughts and feelings.

You might find that you have been brought closer together by the diagnosis. On the other hand, you may find that you or your partner are struggling to come to terms with it and feel as though you are pushing or being pushed away.

What can you do?

Communicate. Being honest with each other is very important. Let them know that you are there for them when they need you. They may feel like a burden and worry about asking too much of you.  

Take their lead. Try to share in their emotions. If they are feeling happy and positive, enjoy these times together. If they are not feeling positive, try not to push positivity. They may need you to accept and share in the more difficult, sad times with them.  

Get support. In looking after yourself, you will feel more able to support your loved one. Talking about how you are feeling, either with a professional or with someone in a similar situation to you, can help you to find ways of coping and moving forwards. See Sources of support for you to find support that is best suited to you.

Take time for you. You may feel like you want to spend every moment with your loved one but making sure that you take time for you can help you to process what is happening. Giving them their own space is also important.

Understand. You may find that knowing more about secondary breast cancer and its treatment helps you to feel more able to understand what is happening and to support your loved one. Within our holistic health information, we have sections on Secondary breast cancer explained, Diagnosis and Treatment. Breast Cancer Now also have a secondary breast cancer information pack which you may find useful and informative, as well as lots of information secondary breast cancer on their website.

Support for children & teenagers

Things to consider when talking to your children about secondary breast cancer

There are no right and wrong ways, or ‘do’s and don’ts’, when it comes to telling your child that you have secondary breast cancer. However, in most cases, simply being honest and open with children about what is happening is the best approach.

Timing. Start the conversation at a time when your child is likely to be feeling safe, comfortable and settled and when you have plenty of time to answer any questions that they might have and to allow them to express their feelings and worries.

Language. The language you use and the specifics of what you tell your child will very much depend on their age. If you have children of different ages, it is likely you will have very different conversations, in different levels of detail, with each of them.

Who to involve. You may feel that you’d like someone with you when you first speak to your child about your diagnosis, whether your partner, another family member or a friend. It is important that your child also trusts and feels comfortable and at ease with this person and able to open up in their presence. It may also be helpful to involve your child’s school, letting them know what is happening and what your child knows so that they are able to offer appropriate support.

School can be the ideal environment for children and teenagers to access support. It is a good idea to involve them early, as finding out about your secondary breast cancer, or beginning to discuss it more at home, may lead to some changes in behaviour which become apparent at school. This may range from difficulty concentrating and troubles with school work to emotional or angry outbursts. You may notice some of these behaviours at home too. It is important to remember that this is a natural response to dealing with emotional difficulties at a young age. Working with school can help you support your children whilst also maintaining normal behavioural boundaries which allow children to feel safe and secure.

Keeping the conversation open. Explaining that things are uncertain in secondary breast cancer and that you don’t have all the answers may be difficult for them to understand and hard for you to admit.

However, being honest and reassuring them that you will keep talking to them about what is happening is likely to ease their anxieties. You may find that they come back to you to talk more once they have had some time to take everything in so it is important to let them know that you are happy to keep talking about it and answering questions.

Macmillan have lots of information and guidance on their website to support parents in talking to their children and teenagers about cancer.

Support for younger children

You may worry that young children will struggle to understand. Using language that they are familiar with, drawing pictures or telling stories can help them to understand more clearly. There are lots of books available to help parents to talk to young children about breast cancer. However, these are mostly written in the context of primary breast cancer. Whilst these can be a good starting point, you may find you need to adapt or expand on these stories, for example letting them know that you will always need to take medicine. Breast Cancer Now have a booklet which provides a range of guidance for women looking to talk to their children about breast cancer, including a list of books written for children.

If these seem too specific to primary breast cancer, ‘Mummy’s got a poorly’ was written by Sarah West, a woman living with secondary breast cancer who was wanting to talk about and explain her diagnosis to her young children in a way which would not frighten them. This is book is available from The Osbourne Trust.

Support for teenagers

The diagnosis of a loved one with secondary breast cancer can be particularly difficult for teenagers to come to terms with, as they progress through a time of much change, emotions and development in their life. It can be hard to find information which is suited to their needs and level of understanding.

The National Cancer Institute have a range of information and support on their website specifically for teenagers who have a family member going through cancer. Unfortunately, this information is not specific to secondary breast cancer and it is an American as opposed to UK source but you and your family may find aspects of this resource useful.

Teenagers may want more detail about secondary breast cancer and the treatments you are having. It may be helpful to direct them towards the holistic health information section of our website, where they can read our sections Secondary breast cancer explained, diagnosis and treatment. Breast Cancer Now and Macmillan have a wide range of information specific to secondary breast cancer on their websites which is clear and easy to understand. If they have questions which they are worried to ask you about, they can speak to one of Breast Cancer Now’s or Macmillan’s experts via their support lines.

Macmillan and Breast Cancer Now also provide a range of further information and guidance on talking to children about cancer on their websites.

Other useful resources

‘Telling kids about cancer’ is a useful tool and resource to help parents have conversations about cancer with children of all ages. This website also has a useful glossary of words which your young one may hear or come across.

The Fruit Fly Collective is an organisation which offers a wide range of practical support for children who have a parent diagnosed with cancer, catering for ages 3 right up to 16. They have created ‘cloud boxes’ which are kits containing tools and resources to help children to understand about cancer and its treatment and to support families in having conversations about cancer.

Support for carers

As a carer of someone living with secondary breast cancer, whether a partner, family member or friend, you are likely to be managing a wide range of emotional, physical and financial challenges along the way.

You may not even consider yourself as a carer. Rather, just someone who is supporting their loved one through the day to day reality of secondary breast cancer.

However, recognising yourself as a carer may help you to feel more able to accept support. Whilst looking after your loved one may well just be a part of your relationship and shared life together, you may find that at times it can be physically and emotionally exhausting. 

You may feel guilty for feeling like you need support for yourself. However, you are not alone. There is lots of support out there to help you to care for your loved one whilst also caring for yourself.

Caring for someone who is living with cancer can affect a person in many ways, physically, emotionally and practically in terms of juggling caring for a loved one with working, social and family life.

To be able to look after someone else’s needs, you must look after your own.

Reach out. Some support groups for secondary breast cancer also welcome carers and family members. There are also lots of support groups specifically for carers of people living with different types and stages of cancer. Though they may not necessarily be specific to secondary breast cancer, you may find it helpful to hear about different experiences and gain different perspectives on things. Lots of carers are also likely to be going through the same feelings as you. You can search on the Macmillan website for support in your local area or call their helpline to ask about relevant support groups near to you.

If sharing your experiences and talking about your feelings in a group of people you don’t know doesn’t appeal to you, speaking to a counsellor about any emotions or struggles you are experiencing may be a more comfortable alternative. Either way, opening up can help you to find ways of coping. Please see our section on Psychological well-being to find out how to access different sorts of psychological support.

Look after yourself. It is also important that you look out for your own needs. You may feel as though your loved one’s needs must always come first but it is healthy for you to take breaks, focus on you and have your own space. Eat healthily, exercise regularly and try to make time for relaxation. There are lots of different things you can do to ‘switch off’ and relax, from going for a walk, reading or doing something you enjoy, to mindfulness, yoga and massage therapy. Please visit our section on Complementary therapies for further information.

Marie Curie and Macmillan both have a wide range of information and support specifically for carers on their websites, with information on looking after yourself, psychological support and accessing practical and financial support.

The NHS website provides information on how and where to access support when caring for someone who needs help with day to day living.

The Carers UK website also offer lots of help and advice, including a helpline and online forum.

Talking about death and dying

People struggle to talk about death and dying for a wide range of reasons.

They may worry about saying the wrong thing and upsetting their loved one more. They may be scared of losing their loved one and not want to put these thoughts into words or feel that, in talking about death, they are making it seem more real or more likely to happen.

Having these conversations may also raise their own fears about dying. They may feel that a professional would be better able and more appropriate to have these discussions as they worry about saying the wrong thing.

In reality, talking about death and dying is a very important part of living with a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. Avoiding the subject can make it seem all the more overbearing and difficult to move past. Without someone to talk to about death and dying, your loved one may feel isolated and alone in their fears.

Communication is key. Not everyone feels ready or able to talk about death and dying. You may not. Your loved one might not. But in sharing this with each other, you are acknowledging it together and ‘parking it’ for discussion when the time is right. Letting one another know that you understand what is happening and the emotions you are feeling might be enough.

Take your time. Try not to force the conversation. Wait until there is a time when you and your loved feel safe at ease. It may be a very short conversation at first, but with time you may find it easier and helpful to talk more at length.

Listen out for cues. Your loved one may try to talk to you about them dying but not know how to start the conversation or worry about being too direct. They may ask you questions such as, ‘do you believe in God?’ or ‘what do you think happens after a person dies?’ These can be useful starting points for beginning to talk about death and dying.

Tips for starting the conversation

Try to ease gently into the conversation. Ask your loved one if they would like to talk about the future with you. In doing this, you are offering a signal that you are ready to have this discussion and leaving the decision with them.

Let them know that you are ready and happy to listen. Your loved one may be relieved to know that you are willing to be there and to listen whilst they talk about what might be the most troubling and deepest concerns for them.

Find the right space. Discussing death and dying is likely to raise lots of important emotions and concerns which may take some time for you to talk through. Try to make sure you open up this conversation is a space where you both feel safe, comfortable and unlikely to be disturbed. This may be whilst you are having dinner together, sat on the sofa, having a walk or sharing a quiet moment over a cup of tea.

Tips for what to do and what to say

Listen. You may be so worried about saying the wrong thing when actually, what your loved one really needs is for you to listen to them, to allow them to speak and to accept what they are saying.

Talk with them not at them. You may feel like you have lots of things that you want to say to your loved one but they need to feel that they can have a real conversation with you. Allow them to voice their worries and concerns and acknowledge them. It might feel like the right thing to do is to be positive and not ‘dwell’ on the negative but it is important that your loved one feels able to talk about death and dying when they are ready and that you accept what they are saying.

Follow their lead. If they are feeling happy and positive about things at the moment, try to reflect and embrace these emotions too.

Dying Matters is group of individuals and organisations with the collective aim of promoting awareness of death, dying and bereavement. Their website provides a wide range of useful information and guidance to help people to have more open conversations about death.

Grieving and bereavement

Coping after the death of a loved one

Grief is the word used to describe the range of feelings a person can feel when someone close to them dies, whether sadness, disbelief, numbness, fear or anger. Grieving is a very natural process and is experienced differently by different people. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no defined amount of time a person should grieve or feel grief.

It may take some time for you to have these feelings or for you to feel ‘ready’ to grieve. With practical things to arrange and other people to care for, you may not feel that there is time to really accept and deal with what has happened and how you are feeling.

Whenever you feel ready, it is important that you reach out and get the help and support that you need. Getting support can help you to process the emotions you are feeling and to find a way to carry on without the person you have lost.

Grieving and bereavement support

If you have lost someone you loved to secondary breast cancer, you may be finding it difficult to move forwards without them in your life. You may be struggling to come to terms with the thought of losing someone you love and want to look into grieving and bereavement support for yourself or loved ones.

Different people find different sources of support helpful.

Talking to the person you have lost, whether in your head or out loud, can help you to express the feelings you are having and to still feel close to them whilst you are coming to terms with them no longer being here.

Talking to family and friends can also help, whether to share the feelings you are having or to talk about your loved one.

If you don’t feel able to talk to loved ones, speak to your GP about how you are feeling. They will be able to listen and offer support. They may suggest one-to-one counselling or refer you towards other useful sources of support.

The Loss Foundation offers free bereavement support for those who have lost someone to cancer.

There are lots of support groups for people who have lost a loved one to cancer. You may find it easier to share your feelings with people you don’t know, especially if family or friends are also grieving or if you don’t feel able to share your feelings with them.

Your GP or practice nurse may know of support groups for family and friends held locally, whether in the community, in the hospital or a hospice, or even groups that meet more informally.

Macmillan have developed a booklet which provides lots of practical guidance and emotional support for friends and family who have lost a loved one, as well as a range of signposting to helpful services.

Macmillan also offer a range of support through their online community, with online forums for friends who have lost a loved one to cancer, or partners who spouses who have lost a loved one to cancer, to support each other through sharing their experiences.

Their website also provides lots of useful information and guidance on bereavement and grieving, including things that may help you to cope with the loss of a loved one.

Bereavement support for children & young people

If you are a parent or carer of children or teenagers, you may be worried about how they will cope when you are no longer here and how they will deal with their grief. You may be a loved one of a child or young person who is struggling with their grief and not know how to support them.

A number of charities provide a wide range of bereavement support specifically for children and teenagers.

Winston’s Wish is a leading childhood bereavement charity in the UK, supporting children and their families through the loss of a parent, brother or sister. They have lots of information on their website and signpost families to different sorts of support. They also provide a list of other useful sources of support and have developed a booklet in partnership with Macmillan called, ‘Preparing a child for loss.’ This may provide useful guidance and support for families looking to prepare children for the loss of a loved one.

For older children and teenagers, the ‘Young People’ section of the website has an online tool called ‘Help 2 Make Sense’, which aims to help them to come to terms with their loss.

Macmillan also provide a range of guidance on preparing a child for loss which may be useful to explore together in advance.

Child Bereavement UK and Hope Again are both organisations with information websites, providing lots of guidance and resources to help children and young people through the process of grieving and coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.

Practical support: What to do when someone dies

It can be very difficult to think about the practicalities, or to know what to do and when, when you are coping with the very recent loss of someone close to you.

The government website has a useful list of practical things which need to be organised when person has died, with lots of guidance and information on what to do and when.

Macmillan’s booklet on coping with bereavement also provides practical information on some of the things that need to be organised when a person dies, as well as further information on their website to guide you through what may happen at the time of death.

It may feel overwhelming to consider all of these things at once. Take your time and seek the support of family, friends and loved ones around you. Often, this is a time when everyone rallies together to help one another through the practicalities and the emotions of losing someone they love.


Page last updated: April 2020