Reactions and feelings to your parent's cancer

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There is no right or wrong way to deal with the news that your mum or dad has cancer.

You may feel overwhelmed, angry, scared, confused or numb, or all of these throughout a day.

Some people describe it as an emotional rollercoaster – you’re going through huge ups and downs with no control over the direction you’re heading.

You have probably at least once asked ‘Why me?’. And then you probably felt guilty for thinking about how their cancer affects you, when your mum or dad is the one with the disease. It’s okay to feel all these things.

Dealing with feelings

Some people are comfortable sharing their feelings, and some people just hope that if you ignore them they will go away. They don’t. Feelings are not good or bad, they are just feelings.

Some of the emotions that other young people who’ve been through this have described are:

  • Shock/disbelief. A pretty natural reaction to hearing that your parent has cancer. Even if you thought that something was wrong with your mum or dad, you probably weren’t expecting it would be cancer.

  • Scared. Doesn’t matter how tough, grown up or brave you are – finding out your parent has cancer can scare the crap out of you. Often you’ll feel less scared when you get more info about what is likely to happen.

  • Angry. Feeling angry that your parent has cancer is pretty normal. It’s okay to be angry, but there are good ways and bad ways to deal with it.

  • Sad. Obviously. But if the sadness never stops and starts to get in the way of you doing other things then you may need to get some help. Check for signs you’re not coping.

  • Guilty. You may get ‘the guilts’ big time about your parent’s cancer. This could be because: you’re healthy and they’re not, you’ve wished bad things would happen to them or argued with them, or you wish you didn’t have to do the extra things that you may have to do.

  • Nothing. Sometimes you may feel nothing. This can be connected to shock or disbelief. It can also be about being too busy in your own life (school/study, a new boyfriend/girlfriend). It doesn’t mean you don’t care – it’s just that you may take time to deal with it.

  • Neglected. With so much of everyone’s energy and focus going into your sick parent it may feel like you are being left out or forgotten.

  • Embarrassed. Your parent may look different and perhaps act a bit different because of the cancer. People may also ask questions that you don’t know how to answer. Having a parent with cancer can make you feel different and that is not always easy to handle.

All these feelings are normal and okay, but if you feel like you’re ‘stuck’ in one or you have no control any more, talk to someone who can help. Talk to a Canteen counsellor online, by phone or face-to-face.

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