Handling a Parent's Cancer Diagnosis
- One senior in high school took to Reddit to ask users for advice on how to – and if she should – share the news of her mother’s recent cancer diagnosis.
- Sharing the news of a parent’s cancer diagnosis can be really hard. And for teens in high school, there’s a whole host of emotions and social complexities that can make it difficult to tell even your closest friends about your parent’s health battle. But it’s a good idea to at least try to let those you’re closest with know what’s going on because having support during such a trying time is crucial.
- Therapy can also be a great option. Licensed clinical psychologist Marianna Strongin has previously explained the importance of expressing your feelings in her advice column for SurvivorNet, because she says not talking about something we’re afraid of or worried about can cause our body to feel anxious or dysregulated.
Reddit user @jojogolf333 is a senior in high school whose 48-year-old mother was just diagnosed with an “extremely rare form of colorectal cancer.” In a plea to the forum, she asked other users for help deciding how, or if, to share the news since her mother had already given her permission to tell her closest friends.Read More
“My question is should I tell people my mother has cancer? I want to tell my best friend, but I also don’t know how,” she wrote. “I’m scared to tell her in person in fear I’m going to absolutely break down during the school day, but if I tell her over text that just feels weird like ‘hey my mom has cancer.’ I also dont know if I should tell my other really close friends. I want to just for support, in case anything happens it won’t come as a complete suprise and shock to them. But I also don’t want to be the girl whose mom has cancer, as terrible as that sounds. And then again, I don’t know how to tell all of them. Has anyone had a similar experience? Or any advice on appropriate ways to tell people?”
One user said she recommended, at the very least, telling her school.
“Not being an educator, but living with a school administrator I highly suggest you let your school know what’s going on,” @Impressive_Course_44 wrote. “If they know what’s going on they can work with you if you break down in school, are having a hard time concentrating, or even need sometime because you were helping your mom and could not get to your school work. I know you asked specifically about friends, but you are going to be dealing with a lot and the school can help if you need them.”
Other users offered kind words and urged her to open up to her friends.
“Everyone has their invisible baggage,” @macbigicekeys wrote. “It’s easier to carry when you make it visible, so others can help. It will be there either way. You are the girl whose mom has cancer. You could be that girl who has some support, too. Ultimately it could help you be stronger for your mom. And, it’s okay if you break down; it’s be odd if you don’t here and there. And best of luck to your mom!”
Another user suggested opening up to a friend but also potentially seeking professional help.
“It’s important not to lean on your mother too often (do it a little just to make her feel like a normal mom) for support during this, even though it might be your most natural instinct,” @shiddyfiddy wrote. “You have to find outside support. I’d say tell the most trustworthy wisdom-friend of your group and see how it goes. Alternately, if you’d really rather just keep your friends out of it – and that’s totally valid – then look into therapy. Especially if you think your parents would be super supportive of that kind of thing.”
Telling Your Friends about a Parent’s Cancer Diagnosis
Sharing the news of a parent’s cancer diagnosis can be really hard. And for teens in high school, there’s a whole host of emotions and social complexities that can make it difficult to tell even your closest friends about your parent’s health battle. But it’s a good idea to at least try to let those you’re closest with know what’s going on because having support during such a trying time is crucial.
There are many resources you can look to if you’re struggling with a parent’s cancer diagnosis including specific pages on the American Cancer Society and MD Anderson Cancer Center‘s websites. The National Cancer Institute also does a good job offering advice specifically for teens looking to open up to their friends about a parent’s cancer diagnosis in a booklet that you can access online entitled When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens. To start, it’s important to remember that just like you’re unsure of how to handle the situation, your friends probably will be too.
“It is hard for some people to know what to say,” the NCI guide states. “Others may think it’s rude to ask questions. Try to be gentle on friends who don’t ask about your parent’s cancer or how you are doing. You may need to take the first step.”
The guide also reminds readers that friends may ask tough questions that you might not feel like answering – and that’s okay. If you do want to share a little bit of info you can try saying something like “talking about what’s going on right now is hard, but it’s nice of you to ask. The doctors are saying: [add in your own information here]…” But, if you don’t want to talk about it at the moment, it’s perfectly okay to tell them so or ask if it’s be okay to talk about it later.
Additionally, try to keep in mind that your friends have their own lives too. And even if it seems like their lives are moving forward without you, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. If you’re ever feeling left out, try to tell them how you’re feeling without making them feel guilty. You can try saying something like: “I miss hanging out together. I know that I’ve had a lot on my mind since my dad got sick. I’m glad we’re still friends. Want to hang out tomorrow?”
Coping with a Parent’s Cancer Diagnosis
Unfortunately, there are many others who, like the Reddit user, have had to watch a parent battle cancer. Singer-songwriter Jazmine Sullivan, for instance, has been open about her mother’s breast cancer battle. In fact, when her album Heaux Tales won the BET Award for album of the year earlier this year, she brought her mom onstage to talk about how much it meant to have her mom by her side that night.
“Two years ago we would’ve never expected to be here,” Jazmine said at the event. “My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. We didn’t see any of this happening but God has been so faithful to us. My mom is now in remission. This is my prize, this is my gift – it means more to me than anything that she’s here with me.”
Beyond being open about her mother’s cancer battle, Sullivan has also shared that she sought help after her mom’s cancer diagnosis. And she’s a great example of why it’s important to still put your mental health first in the wake of life-altering news like a parent’s cancer diagnosis. After all, you can’t be the best, healthiest version of yourself for your loved one fighting cancer if you don’t attend to your own needs too. And some people find the help they need through therapy.
“Breast cancer changes everything about your life. I’ve actually started seeing a therapist and I’m taking care of my mental health because that’s something that you just need to kind of figure out,” she previously told Yahoo Life. “I’ve been looking up so much since [starting] therapy and getting that pain and everything that I went through out.”
Licensed clinical psychologist Marianna Strongin has previously explained the importance of expressing your feelings in her advice column for SurvivorNet.
“Talking about difficult things does not cause more anxiety,” she said. “It is NOT talking about the very thing that we are all afraid or worried about that causes our body to feel dysregulated (unable to manage emotional responses or keep them within an acceptable range of typical emotional reactions) and anxious.”
Addressing people with sick parents, Dr. Strongin says, “I encourage you to talk about your feelings with your immediate family as well as your parents.”
Dr. Marianna Strongin on Prioritizing Mental Health