A parent is a source of guidance, strength and wisdom. You relied on them in times of turmoil, and they guided you through many of life’s most difficult situations. With an unexpected cancer diagnosis, your worlds may appear to flip upside down; roles are suddenly reversed, and it is your turn to help them through one of the greatest challenges of their life. How do you help them overcome their anxiety, confusion and anger while simultaneously coping with your own emotions?
“Cancer” is a scary word, and conjures up a number of frightening mental images. While it may be tempting to avoid thinking about the situation, doing so will likely only serve to increase your anxiety. One of the most effective ways to reduce anger and fear about the disease is to know it inside and out.
Research the type of cancer your parent has, along with its causes and treatment options. Accompany your parent to appointments so you can help soak up the details and information surrounding the diagnosis. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and find out how the disease can be fought through simple lifestyle choices, such as nutrition and exercise.
Encourage your parent to do the same, and support them as they attempt to make significant changes in their lives, such as quitting smoking. And above all, remember that there have been a number of medical advancements made over the last few decades that have made cancer more treatable than it has ever been in the past.
As much as your own parent needs to be surrounded by supportive friends and family as they battle the disease, you also need a network of loved ones who will help you overcome your own emotional rollercoaster.
Address your fears by discussing them with people you trust, including doctors and other professionals who will help you fight through your anxiety and anger. If you find it useful, keep a journal or blog to record your thoughts and feelings. Exercise or meditate to help relieve stress. Join a support group if possible (often available through your local hospital or cancer centre), and if you are a religious person, pray. Always remember you are not alone.
It may be tempting to keep your parent’s cancer diagnosis a secret; perhaps you don’t want to bring attention to yourself or don’t want people to feel sorry for you. However, by telling those around you, particularly those closest to you, including friends, family, coworkers or classmates – you’ll likely discover a wealth of supportive individuals who can provide hope and relief.
Cancer has touched the lives of many people, and chances are you’ll find others who have experienced or overcome the disease and can offer advice, guidance and encouragement. Don’t hesitate to approach your boss or teachers should you need to take time away from work or school to support your parent or to cope with your own emotions.
While cancer is undoubtedly a frightening disease, it is important to remember that many, many people diagnosed with cancer will not die from it. As our knowledge of the disease grows, we continue to develop revolutionary treatments that have allowed millions of people get back to living normal, healthy lives. It’s important for both you and your parent to keep these statistics foremost in mind and remain positive. Continue to maintain hope and a belief that everything will turn out OK.
After learning the news of your parent’s cancer diagnosis, you may feel like an abundance of pressure is suddenly thrust upon you; you may feel overwhelmed with obligations to your parent, while still feeling forced to balance your own busy life. While no one expects you to abandon your other commitments, it is important to make time for your parent whenever possible.
Stay supportive by doing something thoughtful ¬– such as running an errand, helping around the house, or surprising them with their favorite food – or just be there to listen. Sometimes just a short visit or phone call is enough to lighten their spirits and relieve some anxiety.
While you may feel powerless when it comes to your own parent’s cancer diagnosis, you can still make a difference in the lives of those struggling with the disease. Consider donating or volunteering at a local cancer charity, or simply wear a ribbon to symbolize your awareness. Battling the disease in any way you can will inspire hope and provide comfort in the knowledge that you are making a difference.
Always remember that you should bear no part of the blame for your parent’s diagnosis. Cancer can strike even the healthiest of people, and it is often impossible to predict or prevent it. Instead of dwelling on the past, look towards the future: focus on what you can do today to help or support your parent and get them back to living a healthy, cancer-free life.