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When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens

  • Posted: 04/12/2011

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Changes in your family

Changing routines and responsibilities
Touching base when things are changing
Keeping family and friends in the loop
Growing stronger as a family
Asking others for help
Your relationship with your parents

Changingroutines and responsibilities

Whatever your family situation, chances are that things have changed since your parent got sick. This chapter looks at some of these changes and ways that other teens have dealt with them.

Does this sound like your home?
Are you doing more chores?
Are you spending more time with relatives or friends?
Are you home alone more?
Are you asked to help make dinner or do the laundry?
Are you looking after younger brothers or sisters more?
Do you want to just hang out with your friends when you are needed at home?

Let your parents know if you feel that there is more to do than you can handle. Together, you can work it out.

Touchingbase when things are changing

Families say that it helps to make time to talk together, even if it’s only for a short time each week. Talking can help your family stay connected. Here are some things to consider when talking with:

Brothers and sisters

  • If you are the oldest child, your brothers or sisters may look to you for support. Help them as much as you can. It's okay to let them know that you're having a tough time, too.
  • If you are looking to your older brother or sister for help, tell them how you are feeling. They can help, but won't have all the answers.

Try saying something like this . . .

"I'm doing the best job I can."

"How can we work together to get through this?"

Your parent who is well

  • Expect your parent to feel some stress, just as you do.
  • Your parent may snap at you. He or she may not always do or say the right thing.
  • Lend a hand when you can.

Try saying something like this . . .

"How are you doing?"

"Is there anything I can do to help you out?"

Your parent with cancer

  • Your mom or dad may be sick from the treatment or just very tired. Or maybe your parent will feel okay and want your company.
  • Try talking if your mom or dad feels up to it. Let your parent know how much you love them.

Try saying something like this . . .

"I love you."

"Can I get you anything?"

Keepingfamily and friends in the loop

Is it getting to be too much to answer the phone and tell people how your mom or dad is doing? That can be a lot for anyone. Ask others to help you share news of how your parent is doing and what help your family needs. Maybe a relative or family friend can be the contact person. Some families use telephone chains. Others use e-mail, a blog, or a social media site.

Growingstronger as a family

Some families can grow apart for a while when a parent has cancer. But there are ways to help your family grow stronger and closer. Teens who saw their families grow closer say that it happened because people in their family:

  • Tried to put themselves in the other person's shoes and thought about how they would feel if they were the other person.
  • Understood that even though people reacted differently to situations, they were all hurting. Some cried a lot. Others showed little emotion. Some used humor to get by.
  • Learned to respect and talk about differences. The more they asked about how others were feeling, the more they could help each other.
"I always took my parents' attention for granted. But after Dad got sick, nobody paid much attention to me. I know everybody has a lot to worry about, but it really hurt. Finally, I wrote a note to them. And they understood! I feel closer to my parents now."
- Lisa, age 15

Askingothers for help

You and your family may need support from others. It can be hard to ask. Yet most of the time people really want to help you and your family.

People who your mom, dad, or you may ask for help:

  • Aunts, uncles, and grandparents
  • Family friends
  • Neighbors
  • Teachers or coaches
  • School nurses or guidance counselors
  • People from your religious community
  • Your friends or their parents.
  • (Add your own) _________________________________

"After Mom got cancer, I got mad at everything. It wasn't fair that I had to watch my little brother and clean. I felt like I was going to lose it, but tried to stay cool and told my mom how hard things were. Now I still have chores, but my little brother goes to a friend's after school, so that I can go to soccer. My mom's awesome. She really understood."
- Brandon, age 15

Things people can do to help:

  • Go grocery shopping or run errands.
  • Make meals.
  • Mow the lawn.
  • Do chores around the house.
  • Keep your parent company.
  • (Add your own) _________________________________

Other ways people can help you and your family:

  • Give rides to school, practice, or appointments.
  • Help with homework.
  • Invite you over for a meal or a day trip.
  • Talk with and listen to you.
  • (Add your own) _________________________________

Yourrelationship with your parents

Your mom or dad may ask you to take on more responsibility than other kids your age. You might resent it at first. Then again, you may learn a lot from the experience and grow to appreciate the trust your parents have in you. See tips on talking with your parents.

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something."
-Edward Everett Hale

“I never used to get sick before Mom got cancer. But then I started getting headaches. My stomach hurt all the time, too. I started wondering if something was wrong with me. I talked to a nurse, and she said that stress can cause a lot of that stuff. She gave me some great advice and said I could talk with her whenever I wanted to. Slowly, I’m feeling better.”
- Kira, age 15