Talking to your parents/caregivers about cancer

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Talking to your parents when you're a teenager can be difficult enough without having a cancer diagnosis. Find out some tips that can help you talk to your parents about cancer, ask for help and also ask for more space when you need it.

Key points

  • Talk to your parents if you feel like you need more independence or space by letting them know you appreciate their care and then explain how you're feeling.
  • There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it.
  • If you are having trouble talking with your parents about your feelings, a social worker, child-life specialist or psychologist may be able to help you.

We use the word parent to mean both a biological parent or another adult who you can rely on and helps care for you.

When you’re a teenager, it is natural that your relationship with your parents will change. When you have cancer, it can be difficult to balance wanting to be more independent and in control with your need for your family’s support and involvement.

How are my parents feeling?

Parents worry about their kids and want to protect them. Since cancer is something a parent can’t fix, no matter how hard they try, parents often feel powerless and scared. As a result, they can sometimes become more protective and more involved in many aspects of your care and life.

How can I ask my parents for more space?

If you feel like you need more independence or you just need your parents to leave you alone sometimes, talk to them about it. This can be tricky, since you don’t want to upset your parents when they are very worried and concerned about your health and only trying to help.

It might help if you start by letting them know that you appreciate their care and their help, and you understand that they are worried about you. Then explain how you’re feeling. If your parents are hesitant about you doing more on your own, try making a plan ahead of time and telling them about it to show them how you’ll be responsible. Having a plan can help you gain their trust.

Asking for help

When you are not feeling well, it is important to tell your family or a person that you trust. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Your family or a trusted friend may be able to make life easier for you when you aren’t feeling well. It is OK to ask for help.

How can I talk to my parent(s) about things that may upset them?

Sometimes you might feel that you need to hide your feelings from your parents because you worry about making them more upset. This is understandable, but your parents need to know how you’re feeling so they can help you. Even if it’s difficult for them to help you, it’s important that you find a way to express your feelings so that those feelings don’t cause bigger problems for you in the future. Keeping feelings locked up never works well in the long run.

You may find it easier to talk to your parents while you are doing something else such as riding in the car, going for a walk or getting dinner ready. If you have more than one parent, sometimes it might be easier to talk to one of them than the other. You can start sharing your feelings with the person in your family or circle of friends whom you feel the most comfortable with. They can help you practice before you talk to your parents. The more you practice sharing your feelings, the easier it will become for everyone.

If you are having difficulty talking with your parents on your own about your feelings, your social worker, child-life specialist or psychologist may be able to meet with you and your parents together or separately to help you come up with some ways to say what you need to. If you decide you don’t want to talk to your parents but have something that needs to be said, your social worker, child-life specialist or psychologist can listen and talk with you.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019