- Your feelings are valid: You have every right to feel whatever emotions you are feeling. Emotions serve an important purpose so try not to ignore them.
- Make time for self-care: Focusing on your wellbeing and making time for things that you enjoy can help with low mood and anxiety, and also help you stay present.
- Reach out to others: It can be helpful to talk to others about how you are feeling. You can speak to your parent, other family members and friends, support groups and/or a therapist.
Navigating cancer can be incredibly emotional, not just for the patient but also for the people close to them. When your parent has cancer, the uncertainty of the situation and what it means for you and your family, can leave you feeling unsure of what to do and how to cope.
Your instinct might be to put all your energy into supporting your parent, however, it’s also important to give yourself time to come to terms with the news and process how you feel.
This guide from Perci Health offers advice on dealing with a parent’s cancer diagnosis, including how you may feel when you first find out and tips on how to process different emotions as they arise.
Finding out your parent has cancer
Finding out that a parent has cancer can be shocking. You may struggle to accept the news, experience numbness, or feel as though your world has turned upside down. This is completely natural, and it can take time to get over the blow of the news.
How you may feel
Once the shock has subsided, the following weeks can be an emotional rollercoaster; you might find you feel different from day to day, or even from hour to hour. Certain situations can also trigger particular emotions, for example, upcoming medical appointments can increase anxiety. Understanding and accepting that your emotions can be turbulent and changeable is important. Common reactions to finding out a parent has cancer include:
- Fear for the future, including how treatment will affect your parent, or how your family will cope with a cancer diagnosis
- Denial, as find it difficult to accept that this is happening to someone you love or that things will change
- Anger that cancer is changing your lives and affecting people you care about
- Grief for the life you and your parent had before their diagnosis, and for the sense of certainty you had about the future
- Sadness for your parent and what they are dealing with
- Guilt that you are well and they are not, or that you are unable to change the situation
- Resentment that you have less free time or that your parent cannot do the things with you that they used to
Tips for coping during your parent’s cancer diagnosis
After finding out a parent has cancer, it’s normal to struggle with emotions and to feel unhappy. It’s also understandable to imagine nothing will make you feel better, but dealing with things one step at a time can help you to feel less overwhelmed. It can be beneficial to set yourself small, manageable goals, for example, your first goal of the day might be to get up and get dressed. Once you have done this, you can set another goal, such as eating breakfast or phoning a friend. Such tasks can be a big achievement when you are feeling low. Just remember that processing emotions takes time.
Other things that may help you cope with your emotions during this time include:
- Exercise: moving around can help manage the intensity of your feelings and raise the level of endorphins in your body
- Journalling: a way to release the emotions you are holding and give you space to understand them
- Eating well: keeps your body well nourished and gives you energy
- Meditation: to ease anxiety and keep you present
Coping when your parent has cancer
You’ll likely continue to experience mixed emotions as your parent goes through treatment. It’s important that you allow yourself to acknowledge these feelings and get support when you need it.
Talk to people
Not everyone finds it easy to talk about how they feel. However, sharing your worries with someone else can release tension and free up headspace so you can focus on things that make you feel more positive. Who you choose to talk to will depend on the relationships you have and what you find comfortable, but it could be a relative, a friend, or members of a support group.
Spend quality time with your parent
When a parent has cancer, it’s easy for their diagnosis, treatment, and appointments to become the focus of all conversations. However, it can be beneficial for you both to spend time together where the attention is on something else. For instance, you could do a jigsaw puzzle together, cook together or chat about your lives outside of cancer. Remember, it’s okay to have everyday conversations and laugh together.
Look after your own wellbeing
As your parent goes through treatment, you might find yourself supporting them emotionally, practically, and even financially. However, you will only be able to support someone with cancer for so long if you don’t also take care of yourself. Making time for your wellbeing is beneficial for your physical and mental health.
Make time for rest but also do activities you enjoy, such as taking the dog for a walk or going to the cinema with friends. Aim to get good quality sleep, keep yourself hydrated and eat a varied, nutritious diet.
Seek specialist support
If you feel you aren’t managing your emotions or they are consistently affecting your day-to-day life, then consider seeking specialist support. There are lots of options available, but you might find that some are more suitable and accessible for you than others.
Your GP will be able to recommend options for support and refer you to mental health services. Some cancer support charities can also signpost you to additional help. Working with a private therapist is another consideration. They will help you process your feelings and give you tools to manage them more effectively.
Perci Health psychologists offer a safe, confidential space, in our virtual clinic, to talk about your unique experience of cancer. Our cancer specialists also offer a range of other online support types that can help anyone who has been impacted by cancer, including patients, family and friends.