Dealing with the emotional effects of cancer on the family

Dealing with the emotional effects of cancer on the family

Parents, carers and family

There are many different shapes of family, and so many different people who may have a parental role in your life right now (mothers, fathers, step-parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, foster parents and others). Hopefully, these connections can provide a safe space for you through the upheaval of cancer. 

As a young person, you're often navigating changes in these parent-child relationships anyway – learning what is possible, changing roles at home, moving out. Add the stresses and challenges of cancer, and these relationships can sometimes be put to the test. Your cancer diagnosis can be just as overwhelming for your family as it is for you.

Your family is dealing with a heap of stuff, that could include:

  • Feeling guilty that this is their fault
  • Shock, fear, anger and disbelief at your cancer diagnosis
  • Worried about you and the rest of your family
  • Helpless, as they can’t fix this for you or make it go away
  • Overprotective of you and trying to shield you from bad news and harsh realities
  • Distracted and not focusing on the normal things
  • Tired, stressed and short-tempered from thinking about everyone else all the time
  • Trying to hide their feelings and put on a brave face for you
  • Worried about money and whether they can get time off work to look after you and your siblings
  • Isolated and lonely. Their friends might not know how to cope and avoid them. They might feel that no one else understands what they are going through
  • Their own personal issues as well. The hard part is life for other people doesn’t stop and this can cause a lot of stress and difficulties when their focus is across so many things.

It's important to know that you don’t have to try to 'fix' any of this but being aware can help you find common ground (e.g. maybe you're both worried about money or have friend who doesn’t ‘get it’). 

Having cancer brought me closer to my parents and family.

Lena, 24 

Support for parents

To help your parents understand how you might be feeling and how they can help, check out the Youth Cancer Services’ YouTube channel: ‘Getting cancer young’ where young people and their parents share their experiences living with cancer. 

Canteen provides parent support services including counselling, an online community and webinars. Parents can also access financial assistance and other practical or emotional support for themselves and their family through Cancer Hub, an initiative by Canteen, Camp Quality and Redkite. 

Parents and carers can often access support though social workers (chat with your treating team) or through their GP.   

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