Finding Stability

When a Parent Has Cancer, Help Keep Kids Grounded

Having a parent who has been diagnosed with cancer can be very scary to a child, but there are ways for you to retain normalcy for your kids while going through treatment.

When a parent has cancer, the whole family may be affected by fear and disruption of their normal life together. One important way to help everybody cope is helping your kids stick to their normal schedules and routines. Here’s my advice.

Get Help with Rides

It’s best to reach out to the parents of your kid’s’ teammates and close friends early on. Don’t be afraid to tell them about your diagnosis and treatment plan, so you can ask for help shuttling kids to and from school and activities, as well as to tournaments, and celebration and competition activities, so your kids won’t miss out on big accomplishments or gatherings. Sometimes, just offering to meet at the other child’s house is a huge help. This way, others don’t have to drive somewhere special to collect your child, you don’t have to drive all the way to the actual activity and your child sticks to their routine.

Accept Help with Meals

When friends and family you trust offer to bring over dinner or to take the kids out for a meal, just let go of that parental control of knowing exactly what time they’ll be home, and what and when they’re eating, and let others take over if you’re not able. Your kids will look forward to visitors and also learn how to accept help.

Let Others Take More Responsibility

If you are used to managing all the aspects of your children’s daily life, you may find you are not able to juggle everything along with surgeries, chemotherapy infusion appointments and not feeling well. Let others take over with the laundry, cooking, cleaning, homework and dishes — no matter how they do it and even if you have to hire outside help. A cleaning or cooking service, or a homework tutor could give both you and your partner a much-needed break.

Let Your Kids See You as Often as Possible

Even if you are in the hospital, don’t hide away to protect your kids from seeing you sick. Otherwise, their imaginations can take over, making this a scarier time than it needs to be, feeding fears that something is really wrong, or that you are gone and not coming back. When kids offer help or invite you to nearby activities, encourage their empathy and take them up on it to watch them really shine. Let them cheer you up.

Let Kids Know Everything May Be Okay

According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of people living past a cancer diagnosis reached nearly 14.5 million in 2014 and is expected to reach 19 million by 2024. When a parent has cancer (unless it’s Stage 4 terminal cancer), there is hope: Today’s surgeries, radiation treatments and chemotherapy regimens have come a long way in managing side-effects. You may even be able to work a limited schedule, or attend pizza night or a soccer game on a Saturday afternoon.

My oncologist always says, “Don’t read all about the side effects and get caught up in how bad it might be. Wait until you feel something, then we can discuss it.”

Show Appreciation Every Day

When family and friends help you and your partner, providing your kids with consistency when you’re sick, don’t miss an opportunity to acknowledge how much you appreciate their help. Your warm smile and heartfelt gratitude is all the people who care about you really need to feel inspired to help you when you need it most.

When a parent has cancer, just having things be normal for the kids can go a long way toward helping everyone feel better, including you.

Visit UVA Cancer Center's website for advice about talking to your kids about cancer.

Learn More
Naomi Mannino
Naomi Mannino