Handling a Parent's Cancer Diagnosis
- High school basketball standout Caroline Lyles lost her mother to breast cancer in 2019, and now her father is battling throat cancer. Through it all, she’s turned to basketball to cope.
- Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer where cancerous cells begin in the throat, voice box or tonsils. It is an HPV-related cancer. One of the the easiest ways to reduce the risk of your children developing the disease is to make sure they get the HPV vaccine, particularly between ages 9 and 12.
- Therapy is one way to cope with a parent’s cancer diagnosis. 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.
Lyles lost “the strongest, most beautiful woman” she knew to breast cancer in May 2019 after her mother battled the disease for nine months. Then, Lyles had to handle another devastating cancer diagnosis in the family. Her father was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2021 at the beginning of her senior year of high school. He’s been done with chemotherapy treatments since December, but now he’s waiting to see if his cancer is in remission – news he won’t receive until late March.Read More
Finding Solace in the Game of Basketball
But despite the devastating developments that have come her way in the past few years, Lyles has always had one thing to help her escape: basketball.
“She would go to the gym. Her outlet was the court,” her father, James, said of his daughter after the mother passed away. “She just liked to do things on her own.”
Lyles has already received multiple offers to play college basketball from Division I programs. But right now, she’s focused on trying to lead her Texas high school team to a seventh state title while also sharing her story to help others facing a similar struggle.
“Looking at it from the perspective that it could inspire other kids, or if they have gone through something like this, looking at it that way kind of helps,” Lyles said. “It can be really hard. You want to give up things, and just want to let people feel bad for you and take all the sympathy. But, just find something — basketball was mine — something positive to help you escape and get your mind off things. It’s kind of like therapy.”
Even her coach has noticed how basketball has helped her cope.
“With all that has gone on in her life, she has never missed a practice, so basketball has been a bit of an escape,” her coach said. “I know there are days she probably didn’t want to come and had a lot on her mind, but came anyway.”
Lyles has also said that relying on her faith and remembering the lovely memories she shared with her mother has helped her move forward after her passing. She even honors her mother’s legacy every time she steps out on the court with her pink Nike shoes designed by NBA star Kevin Durant as a tribute to his Aunt Pearl after she died of lung cancer.
“It has definitely been hard, and it definitely doesn’t get any easier,” Caroline said. “But, you grow from it a lot, and it has made me stronger as a person in every aspect possible.”
Understanding Throat Cancer
Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer where cancerous cells begin in the throat, voice box or tonsils. Some of the main risk factors for this disease include smoking, drinking alcohol, a diet lacking in fruits or vegetables, acid reflux disease and the human papillomavirus (HPV). So, one of the easiest ways to decrease your chances of developing the disease is to get the HPV vaccine
The American Cancer Society recommends that boys and girls get the HPV vaccine between ages 9 and 12. The organization also stresses that teens and young adults through age 26 who are not already vaccinated should get the HPV vaccine as soon as possible. Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, explains the link between throat cancer and HPV in a previous interview with SurvivorNet.
“There are no screening guidelines to screen for throat cancer, unlike cervical cancer with pap smears. And there are no standard tests to determine if you harbor the (HPV) virus,” she said. “However, there is no concern that you’re going to spread this cancer to your partner or to anyone else, because at this point your partner has already been exposed to the virus and likely cleared it.”
Coping with a Parent’s Cancer Diagnosis
Unfortunately, there are many others who, like Lyles, 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.”