How to Help a Parent Who Has Cancer

10 ways to support your parent -- and yourself-- through the journey.

helping a parent with cancer

Nothing is worse than hearing that someone you love has cancer. It's even harder when it's your parent. As children, we typically see our parents as strong and invincible. When they get sick, it's tough. Your roles may reverse, and you may have to start caring for your parent as they battle this disease.

While it's easy to be overwhelmed and frightened by the thought of cancer, there's a lot you can do to not only help your parent, but help yourself through the process too.

  1. Treat Them to Luxuries
    Helping your parent may be as easy as offering a good foot or back massage. Whether it's done by you or a licensed therapist is up to you. If your mother is the one battling cancer, give her a manicure or pedicure. These small luxuries, and the time you spend together, will be something you and your parent come to cherish.

  2. Enlist Nursing Help
    Going back and forth from the hospital constantly can be hard...and time consuming. Rather than spending money on gas, hire a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or a visiting nursing assistant (VNA). These skilled nurses can administer IV medication, take vital signs, and perform other medical needs in the comfort of your parent's home. (No hospital room required.)

  3. Be a Great Note-taker
    The thought of cancer can be overwhelming and every doctor's meeting can feel like information overload. "Often the patient is unable to retain much of the meeting," explains Deborah Smith, Senior Vice President for Health Initiatives at the American Cancer Society, New England Division. She suggests designating one person to attend doctor appointments with the patient.

    Be sure to write down notes about the doctor's plan, goals and next steps. Also include specifics like when they should take medication and problems they may encounter. You can also report to the doctor any side effects they are having. The American Cancer Society offers a list of specific questions that patients and families should ask the doctor.

  4. Start a Written Correspondence
    Buy a journal for your parent and write to them in it. In return, they can respond back to you. Talk about any topic you wish. And remember, sometimes it's easier to ask the hard questions or discuss emotional issues if you can write them down. Keep this journal going throughout your parent's treatment. You two will treasure having a written record of your conversations back and forth that will illustrate the journey you took together.

  5. Be Patient with Siblings
    You and your brothers and sisters are all very different and you will each cope with the cancer diagnosis and its effects in different ways. Some may keep emotions locked away internally; others will need ways to let emotions out. Rather than cause additional stress on your parent by constantly fighting with your siblings, try to be as patient as possible. Lean on your siblings during this time and let them lean on you, so that you can all better support your parent.

  6. Hire a Housekeeper
    When you're sick, it's easy to get stressed worrying about everything that you have to do, but that your body won't let you do. Imagine how your parent feels. Let them get the rest and relaxation they need and help out by cleaning the house, doing laundry, buying groceries, etc. If you aren't able to stop by on a regular basis, hire a housekeeper to make a daily, weekly, or even monthly visit. Getting these small tasks completed for your parent will allow them to recuperate without the worry.

  7. Give Them a Distraction
    Surgery recovery and chemo treatments can create a lot of idle time. Purchase a portable DVD player or an iPod to help your parent pass the time. Pick out movies or put together a playlist you think they would enjoy. If they are far away, record videos from your children, your siblings and yourself cheering them on during their fight. And if you are visiting during this time, try starting a new hobby together, such as knitting or card playing.

  8. Start a Blog and Shared Calendar
    When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, family and friends usually rally around them. This community is wonderful, but can be overwhelming too. Imagine constantly getting inundated with calls from people checking in-always having to repeat the some details over and over. Sometimes your parent won't have time to respond to all of the messages or have the bandwidth to deal with them all.

    Instead, create a family blog for them. You can update everyone on your parent's health, talk about emotions, and encourage people to leave comments and supportive messages.

    Want to create a family-hub of chore-delegation and personal info for just the immediate family?  Start a Google Calendar you can share with family and close friends and it update with appointments and caregiver schedules. Use Google Drive to keep a running list of to-dos (like chores and bill payments) that still need tackling. People can sign up for a task and lend a hand with your parent's care.

  9. Read Stories
    A parent who has cancer may be very emotional and need the support and inspiration of other cancer patients and survivors. Sit down with your parent and look through blogs and websites that share the amazing stories of other people who are dealing with the big "C". Try Blog for a Cure, The Cancer Warrior and Mothers with Cancer. You can even search for stories that talk about the specific type of cancer your parent is dealing with. This site is a great place to start.

  10. Create a Good Support System for You
    And while you're caring for your parent and family, don't forget to care of yourself! Surround yourself with friends who will take your calls and don't mind a night in, as opposed to a fun night out. Allow yourself to cry and let your emotions out. Realize that you don't have to get back to every email and text message. You have a lot going on right now and people know that. You get a guilt-free pass.

It's important to get the care you need so you in turn can help your parent. "Learn what steps to take for your own physical health and emotion well-being," says Smith. "Taking care of yourself can make a big difference in the way you feel about your role as a caregiver and in your ability to perform these new tasks and activities."

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Comments (2)
Alexis W.
i have a step mom that has Brest cancer and she is going through chemo and it is really hard and im 15 and im trying to find a job helping the elder.
Posted: May 17, 2013 at 10:47 AM
The Gathering Place
This is an incredibly user-friendly tool for people to use! We will share it with our cancer support community and know it will be helpful to folks as they care for their loved one.
Posted: October 19, 2012 at 3:24 PM
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