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How to support a loved one with cancer (and yourself too!)


Hello, young champions!  

For years, I have had the privilege to support many young people with a parent diagnosed with cancer here on Connect. One of the most frequently asked questions is, “how do I support my parent with cancer?”.  

Living with a parent with cancer can be very challenging. You can see that they are sick, and you want to do all the right things. As their child, you might be in a unique position to be a source of strength as they go through many adjustments. 

I’m here to offer you some ways that you can be there for your parent and learn how to cope when a loved one has cancer. I hope you find these tips helpful.

1. Follow their lead 

Cancer treatment can be physically and mentally draining for your parent. They might not feel like talking much, because they might be too fatigued, overwhelmed or sad. In these moments, your parent might cope by withdrawing from others. It is helpful to remind yourself that this doesn’t mean that they don’t care, or don’t want to spend time with you. 

If they feel like talking, it is important to listen to them. In fact, one of the most powerful ways to support your parent is to be a good listener. Giving them space to talk about what’s happening sometimes makes all the difference. 

2. Be understanding  

For parents and carers, being told that they have cancer is probably one of the hardest things that they would ever hear. Like you, they are likely to experience a wide range of emotions. They may be worried about the future; the possibility of illness and death; you (and your family); finance and work; and many other things. They might respond differently to you than before cancer. Remember that illness, medication and fatigue might have caused changes in how they are feeling – they are trying to do their very best in a very difficult situation. Try not to take this personally! Your understanding and patience can make a difference. 

3. Offer to help, or find help 

Many parents appreciate all the help they can get. Small gestures of care, such as cooking and cleaning, can be a big relief. You might also want to have a regular family discussion on who is able to take on certain tasks this week/month. It might also be important to find out if there are support services at the hospital or through Canteen that can link you to practical help too. 

4. Share joyful moments 

It can be helpful to still engage in activities that you can enjoy together. For example, you might be able to play a board game, watch a movie, share photos, even just talk about happy memories and “small wins” of the day. These joyful moments can be a source of comfort for both of you.  

5. Take care of yourself too! 

Throughout this cancer journey, you may experience all kinds of emotions. As such, it is extremely important to look after yourself and learn how to cope when a loved one has cancer.  

Remember that you don’t have to go through this alone! You may find it helpful to talk things out with a friend, a person you trust (like a teacher, or GP), or a counsellor. Talking can help you put things into perspective, process difficult emotions, and find solutions to problems. Attending support groups or events (like Canteen programs) can also be beneficial, as you can connect with others who can empathise with you and truly understand what you are going through.  

Supporting your parent or carer can be a powerful and loving thing to do. Remember that you don’t need to do everything perfectly. Your presence, love and compassion are the best things that you can offer your parent during this difficult journey. 

 Pete Techakesari

Author bio: Pete Techakesari is a clinical psychologist with extensive experience supporting adolescents and young adults with cancer. He has held various positions in hospitals, NGOs and private psychology clinics in NSW and ACT.]