Coping at home when your parent has cancer

Main Banner

When your mum or dad is having treatment or really sick, you might feel like your normal life has been stolen from you. You might have to take on a lot more responsibilities and not get to do your usual activities as much. If you had moved out of the family home, you might move back to help while your mum or dad is having treatment.


Most of the time you understand why these changes are necessary and probably just get on with it. But it’s okay to wish that sometimes you could just go out and do normal fun things. You can start to feel frustrated, isolated, guilty and depressed. If you need to vent, log in to the Canteen Community and post your comments or questions, or read about how other young people in situations like yours have dealt with the changes and responsibilities. Or talk to a Canteen counsellor, and ask about support services and groups that could be helpful.


Changing roles and responsibilities

Do these things sound familiar?

  • You’re doing more around the house. Have you had to find the washing machine or clean the toilet yet?

  • You’re home alone more (and you thought that might be fun).

  • You’re looking after younger brothers and sisters.

  • You have to stay with relatives and friends.

  • You don’t get to spend as much time with your friends.

  • You can’t remember the last home-cooked meal you had (unless you count cheese on toast). Get some tips below on helping with cooking.


Get organised

If you have taken on extra roles at home with the family, especially if you’re still at school, studying or working, being organised can help.

  • You might need a weekly planner if you have a big family and you need to keep track of everyone’s schedules. The calendar on your phone might just not cope!

  • Planning meals for the week will take the stress out of making dinner each night and help with the shopping.

  • If you’re also responsible for doing the shopping and maybe paying bills, you might have to do a budget.

  • If you can afford it, or find an organisation that offers this kind of help, get someone in to help with cleaning or ironing.


Helping with cooking

One of the (many) tasks you may have had to take on while your mum or dad is sick is cooking meals for yourself or maybe for the whole family. Before now maybe your experience in the kitchen was limited to standing in front of the fridge looking for something to snack on. Living on takeaway is okay when things are completely out of control, but cooking for yourself and your family is healthier and cheaper.


Ideas to get started

The following tips will help to make cooking a little less stressful and mealtimes a little less boring:

  • If cooking is new to you find some simple recipes that don’t have too many ingredients or too much preparation. Log in to the Canteen Community and check out the forum where young people have posted recipes and tips.

  •  Ask someone to show you some basic things to get started like how to turn the oven on and how to store cooked food safely – maybe ask a relative or a friend’s mum?

  •  Stock up on things like pasta, bottles of pasta sauce, pizza bases and other healthy pre-prepared meals.

  •  Buy some frozen meals to have as emergencies. Check out the freezer section of the supermarket – there are lots to choose from.

  •  If you have to cook for the whole family reserve one ‘cooking’ day a week to make big batches of family food that can be frozen then reheated (or added to lunch boxes) without too much effort.

  •  Planning your meals for the week might sound lame but can be really helpful. This will also help with the shopping.

  •  Don’t stress about whether the final meal looks perfect – as long as it tastes good! Once you get into it, you may really enjoy cooking.


Tips for cooking for someone with cancer

  • The smell of food can sometimes make a sick person feel worse, and make eating more difficult, so try cooking and serving food outside or place a fan behind the table so the smells are blown away.

  • Some drugs and chemotherapies can make food taste metallic, so, if this is the case for mum or dad, try serving dishes with plastic utensils, chop-sticks or porcelain spoons.

  • Fresh vegetables and fruits can be easier to eat when they are juiced, but some acidic juices (like tomato) can hurt if your mum or dad has sores in their mouth (this can happen from some chemotherapies). Drinking with a straw or adding aloe vera juice (you can get this from health food stores) might help.

  • Getting enough protein (from nuts, beans and lentils, eggs, fish, meats and dairy products) is very important, especially when someone is ill. But, sometimes protein can be difficult to digest, so protein powder can be sprinkled on or added to most foods and non-meat sources like tofu are pretty easy to use.

  • Clear broths and soups made with fresh organic ingredients can provide plenty of nutrition and are easy to eat. Make lots and freeze some for later.

  • Eating favourite foods when you are sick or nauseous can sometimes turn you off them. Wait until your mum or dad feels better and then make those these dishes for a special occasion or celebration with friends and family.

  • Hospital food can be awful so prepare some homemade meals that can be reheated in a microwave or eaten cold.

  • Talk to your mum or dad’s treatment team and see if you can get any advice from a nutritionist at the hospital.


Helping with cleaning

Most young people don’t like cleaning their rooms, let alone the whole house! Maybe you’ve never switched on the washing machine, or scrubbed the bath?

When your mum or dad is dealing with cancer they may not be able to do all the stuff around the house they used to. Or maybe you’ve just realised that these are things you can do, so that they can focus their energy on getting well or doing things they want to do.

It’s hard to know how to do something you’ve never done before, so don’t be afraid to ask for help:

  • Ask someone to show you how to work the washing machine or dishwasher – maybe a neighbour or friend’s mum.

  • Ask your relatives (aunt or uncle?) which cleaning products are best for dealing with the shower screen or toilet.

  • If you have a friend who you know has been doing their own ironing, get them to give you a lesson.

  • Grab your iPod or turn up the speaker – it will be done before you know it!

And go easy on yourself. Don’t worry if you do it differently, or the end product is not sparkling clean or perfectly ironed.

The same rule applies if someone else – your other parent, brother or sister or another relative – is doing some of the cleaning. Be grateful rather than point out that it’s not the way mum or dad does it.

Collapsible field
You're not alone
Chat with people who get you. Get time out at our fun events. Talk to a counsellor (it’s free!).