Coping with school or work when your parent has cancer

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Keeping up at school, uni/TAFE or work while your parent is sick can be a challenge. Even getting there some days may be hard. When your mum or dad is in hospital for treatment it becomes even more difficult. You may be trying to fit in visits to the hospital with all your usual commitments like sport training, homework/assessment or work, as well as manage more responsibilities at home.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t get to visit all the time – your mum or dad will understand and want you to do other things too.


Going to school can be a welcome relief. It can be a place where you can go and see your friends, do normal things and forget about cancer for a while. But going to school when your parent is sick can also cause a lot of stress. If you’re going back and forth to the hospital, taking on more responsibilities around the house and helping to look after your mum or dad and maybe the rest of your family, it may be hard to find the time or energy for school. You might miss classes, not be able to keep up with homework and start to fall behind.

Don’t try to do it all alone

  • Let your teachers know what’s happening at home. How much you tell them is up to you. But you will probably find that they do understand and will try to make things a bit easier for you. They might give you more time for your assignments or let you have time off when you need it.
  • Try to get as much done at school as you can, so you don’t have to bring work home.
  • Talk to your teachers or a counsellor if you’re being bullied or your marks are starting to suffer.
  • Try not to stress about your school work. It can wait, if necessary, until things settle down again.

Uni or TAFE

If you are studying at uni or TAFE, it might go unnoticed that you’re skipping lots of classes or failing a subject. Talk to your lecturers, tutors or department heads to work out a strategy to cope with your study workload while you are supporting your mum or dad.

  • If you’ve had to take on a lot of extra responsibility at home, you may want to defer your studies for a year or apply for special consideration when you take your exams.

  • Most campuses have a Student Services Centre that provides counselling and support.


What you tell your boss or work mates about your parent’s cancer is completely up to you. You don’t have to tell them at all. However, you will probably find that if you do they will be supportive and understanding, especially if you have to take time off or are just having a bad day.

Most people know you can take paid sick leave (unless you are a casual). But you may not know that you can also take paid carer’s leave, to look after a family member who is sick, or paid compassionate leave, if a family member dies or is about to die. The Australian Government’s FairWork website has info about your rights at work.

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