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How to Support a Parent with Cancer

When you learn one of your parents has cancer, it can be some of the most devastating news you’ve ever heard. Parents are the people who raise you and support you through your life and suddenly the roles have reversed. Now, you are the one who needs to stay strong and be supportive throughout a difficult time.

While feeling emotions is only human, it is important that you do not fall to pieces when your parent needs you the most. Here are a few ways you can support your parent through their cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Maintain Open Conversation

 

If your parent feels that they can’t talk to you about their illness or what they’re going through, they will keep their worries and fears jarred up. This can result in depression. Of course, you shouldn’t constantly talk about the illness, but you should make your parent feel comfortable talking to you about what they’re going through.

Do your best to remain calm and avoid making the conversation about yourself. While it may be hard for you, you are not the one who is sick.

 

Do Your Best to Stay Positive

 

Overt positivity can come off as fake and obnoxious. Rather than telling your parent that everything will be okay, steer conversations toward positive things. Talk about feel good news stories, funny little events that happen during your day, good news from friends and family, and the like.

Good news to distract from the situation has more value than you might think. This does not mean you always need to be upbeat and happy, but it does mean you should do your best to avoid making every conversation about your parent’s illness.

 

Bring the Family Dog for a Visit

 

Dogs are expert stress reducers and mood boosters. Their enthusiasm for play and attention as well as their unconditional affection is a great break for someone with a terminal illness. Playing with a dog can make one temporarily forget their circumstances and alleviate any depression.

 

If you have a family of your own, bringing the grandchildren by can also be a great break in the negative atmosphere.

 

Keep Mental Health in Mind

If you notice a decline in your parent’s mental health, you should take measures to resolve the problem. Consider recommending a counselor or a support group to your parent. Having someone that is not a loved one to confide in about their illness can be of great help.

 

Support groups for those with cancer or those who have overcome cancer can give your parent hope for recovery or acceptance of their future. It will also unburden loved ones who may be filling the role of support group or counselor.

 

It’s also important to remember that exercise is a great mental health booster. Encourage your parent to get exercise when they’re able. Go for a walk with them when you visit or take them to swim at the local Y, just make sure the facility has any assistive devices that are needed.


Supporting a parent through an illness like cancer is not easy for any child. For so long, a parent acts as their child’s caregiver, their supporter, and their friend. To suddenly become the one your parent relies on is not an easy transition. Enlist help from friends, family, counselors, and even your dog to ease your parent’s journey through treatment and try to stay positive. It will not always be easy but remember that many others have traversed the same path and have come through to the other side. Both you and your parent will get through this difficult time. You just need others to help you through it.

Katybeth Dee

kateybeth_dee@selfexam.org

Photo by Stevebidmead

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