Ever since your mom or your dad got cancer, you’ve been trying so hard to behave exceptionally well and to protect them from bad news, right? You figure that your parents have enough to worry about, so why add your bad math grade to their already full plate? Why tell them about the kid who’s bullying you on the school bus, or about how scared you are about cancer?
Why? Because they’re your parents, that’s why, and they love you.
How do I know? Because I was a parent with cancer, too, and so I know what it’s like to go through chemotherapy and radiation treatments while also caring for my children. I know that their lives changed overnight. Suddenly, Mom wasn’t the same old Mom she’d always been. In fact, I ended up spending the better part of a month in the hospital and the rest of my post-treatment time on the couch a lot. So, neighbors and family members drove my kids to their activities, filling in where I couldn’t.
I know it may seem that your parents are too preoccupied to take care of you right now, but understand that they still want to be the best parents they can be, given the situation. If you are having troubles, here’s what you can do:
- Tell the parent who doesn’t have cancer. He or she may have more energy to deal with the situation. You may have to time it when he or she doesn’t seem as stressed as usual. Pick a day when there isn’t chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, scans or doctor’s appointments planned so it’s easier for Mom or Dad to concentrate on you.
- Ask your sick parent when is a good time to talk. Mom or Dad might be feeling good today, and if not, they may still want to help you out, but maybe after a nap. Schedule in time to talk when it works for both of you.
- Talk to your school counselor. It’s great to have someone on hand at school who can help you with school issues and even with home issues. Set up an appointment or drop by the counselor’s office. Or ask your teacher for help.
- Find a relative you can count on. Maybe your grandparents or an aunt or uncle can lend an ear while your parents are busy with doctor’s appointments. You just have to ask. Sometimes adults are afraid to talk about cancer with kids, so tell your relative that you would feel better if you talked about it than if you pretend nothing is wrong.
- Seek out a support group. There are groups for kids whose parents have cancer, but they may be hard to find. You can ask your school counselor or your psychologist (if you have one), or ask a grown-up to help you check out places like Gilda’s Club. Sometimes you can make friends with another kid in town whose mom or dad has or had cancer. Or talk to an older brother or sister about how you feel.
Most importantly, know that you’re not alone. Other kids, like mine, have been through when a parent has cancer, and are doing fine now. Don’t hold in your feelings. Ask for the help you need from someone you trust — yes, even Mom and Dad.
For more information, read “When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens.”