Coping With Emotions

A Cancer in Your 30s Guide for Love, Work and Family

Young people with cancer face fears and challenges with family and jobs. Discover how to tackle the unique challenges that arise with a diagnosis of cancer in your 30s.

Getting diagnosed with cancer in your 30s is devastating news. You may be hoping to start a family, buy a home or get a big promotion at work. Maybe you’ve already started a family, which includes young children depending on you and a monthly mortgage payment. Cancer might make you feel like it’s not just your health in jeopardy.

So what do you do? First, break down the things you need to address and handle them one by one. By addressing concerns individually, you can get organized and take better steps to feeling like your life is under control.

Work and Money

Many people with cancer in their prime working years experience lost wages and a financial burden. The good news is this drop doesn’t last forever. Research in the American Cancer Society’s journal Cancer found that wages return to normal within five years of diagnosis, on average.

To begin planning, create a financial plan for the next few years. Talk to your employer about whether you can drop back your hours during treatment, and apply for short-term disability if you can. Ask your family members about helping out with bills until you’re able to return to work full time. Talk to your partner about budgeting and his or her work options to cover costs during this time.

Everyone’s situation is different. You may be able to work throughout your treatment or return to work soon after, or you may need a longer time to recover or have many days off for chemotherapy treatments. Be open with your family, friends, employers, members of your religious organization and others in order to get support.


In your 30s you could still be looking for love or in a serious relationship. Cancer takes its toll on your personal feelings of body image and sexuality. It also affects relationships. Counseling and support groups may help during this time. Groups like Look Good Feel Better provide resources to address body image issues. Counseling can let you, as a couple, work through the fears and challenges cancer brings. Nurturing your romantic life during this time can make you feel more supported and surrounded by love.

Family Responsibilities

Maybe you’re the breadwinner or the primary caregiver, a single parent or you split duties evenly between the two of you. No matter what, cancer means you’ll need assistance caring for your children. Reach out to friends, other parents, family or anyone else who can pick the kids up from school when you have appointments, bring over meals when you’re not up to cooking or pick up groceries for you.

As a parent, you also have the challenge of talking to your kids about cancer. Be open and honest with them about what’s happening. They may feel more scared by not knowing. Consider going to family therapy to learn how to better communicate feelings and fears with one another.


Many cancer treatments affect fertility. If you want to start a family, expand the one you already have or keep the option of having kids open, talk to your doctor early on about fertility preservation. You may be able to undergo fertility-sparing surgery. Or you may need to plan ahead by freezing your eggs or banking your sperm.

Having cancer in your 30s brings different concerns and fears than for older adults. Use all the resources around you, personally and at your cancer center. Social workers, financial counselors, your nurse navigator, doctors, chaplains and behavioral health specialists are all here to make sure you get the care you need. They may be able to point you in the direction of resources you didn’t know were available. Remember you’re not in this alone, and reaching out to others is the best way to get through this time.

UVA Cancer Center offers financial coordinators to help you develop a financial plan while you receive care.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney