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When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens

  • Posted: 04/12/2011

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Taking care of yourself

Dealing with stress
Take care of your mind and body
Take steps to keep things simple
Get help when you feel down and out

It's important to "stay fit"—both inside and out. This chapter offers tips to help you keep on track during this experience.

Dealing with stress

Stress can make you forgetful, frustrated, and more likely to catch a cold or the flu. Here are some tips that have helped other teens manage stress. Pick one or two things to do each week.

Take care of your mind and body

  • Stay connected.
    • Spend some time at a friend's house.
    • Stay involved with sports or clubs.
  • Relax and get enough sleep.
    • Take breaks. You'll have more energy and be in a better frame of mind.
    • Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
    • Pray or meditate.
    • Make or listen to music.
  • Help others.
    • Join a walk against cancer.
    • Plan a bake sale or other charity event to collect money to fight cancer.
  • Avoid risky behaviors.
    • Stay away from smoking, drinking, and taking drugs.
  • Put your creative side to work.
    • Keep a journal to write down your thoughts and experiences.
    • Draw, paint, or take photographs.
    • Read biographies to learn what helped others make it through challenging times.
  • Eat and drink well.
    • Drinking plenty of water each day
    • In the evening, switch to caffeine-free drinks that won't keep you awake.
    • Grab fresh fruit, whole-grain breads, and lean meats like chicken or turkey when you have a choice.
    • Avoid sugary foods.
  • Be active.
    • Play a sport, or go for a walk or run.
    • Learn about different stretching and breathing exercises.
Did you know?

Exercise has been proven to make you feel better. Running, swimming, or even walking can help improve your mood.

"The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time."
-Abraham Lincoln

Take steps to keep things simple

Staying organized can also keep your stress level under control. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • At home
    • Make a list of things you want to do and put the most important ones at the top.
    • Make a big calendar to help your family stay on top of things.
  • At school
    • Try to get as much done in school as you can.
    • Let your teachers know what's happening at home, without using it as an excuse.
    • Talk to your teachers or a counselor if you are falling
    • behind.
Get help when you feel down and out.

Many teens feel low or down when their parent is sick. It's normal to feel sad or "blue" during difficult times. However, if these feelings last for 2 weeks or more and start to interfere with things you used to enjoy, you may be depressed. The good news is that there is hope and there is help. Often, talking with a counselor can help. Below are some signs that you may need to see a counselor.

Are you:

Feeling helpless and hopeless? Thinking that life has no meaning?
Losing interest in being with family or friends?
Finding that everything or everyone seems to get on your nerves?
Feeling really angry a lot of the time?
Thinking of hurting yourself?

Do you find that you are:

Losing interest in the activities you used to enjoy?
Eating too little or a lot more than usual?
Crying easily or many times each day?
Using drugs or alcohol to help you forget?
Sleeping more than you used to? Less than you used to?
Feeling tired a lot?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, it's important to talk to someone you trust. Read more about seeing a counselor or joining a support group in the section called Finding Support.

"Things weren't easy between me and my dad. We fought about everything. After he got cancer, I felt really bad. Then the nurse told me about this support group. I ended up going with a friend. At first I just listened. Then I realized they were going through some of the same things that I was and actually had some helpful advice. Dad and I talk more now and even laugh about the dumb fights we had."
- Alex, age 17