When Your Parent Has Cancer: Advice From Those Who Have Been There

No one prepares you for a parent’s diagnosis. When you find out a parent has cancer, it’s common to wonder what to do or say next. You may be feeling lost, scared or angry, but above all, you may just want assurance that things are going to be OK.

We asked the CaringBridge community to share their stories of how they coped when their mom or dad had cancer. While every situation is different, we hope that their words may resonate with you, and help you find hope and comfort during this time.

1. Take One Day at a Time 

It can be all too easy to get caught up in the “what if” game and live in fear of the future. However, the only day we can control is the day we’re in, and dealing with things one step at a time can help it all feel a bit less overwhelming.

“Take one day at a time. Give them as much love and time as you can doing things you love. Making memories helps you get through the hard times!”

Diana L.P.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, here are a few thoughtful ways to show someone your love for them.

2. Enjoy Quality Time Together 

If you’re able to see your loved one frequently, plan fun things to do together when you see them. It can be as simple as watching your favorite show together or taking walks through your neighborhood. Pick something your loved one enjoys and brings them happiness; it’ll likely bring a smile to your face as well.

When you’re not in person, regular video calls, texting or group chats can be a great way to catch up. Consider making a regular call date so you both have something to look forward to.

“My suggestion is the same love and care for each other as you have always done. Make each day a good day and when days are tough, dig in your heels, say a prayer and go forward. Love, prayers, support of family and friends are so important. I know from experience that is what makes each day important and worth living.”

Carol T.

“I was told that Mom had cancer not once but twice. Keep up the good spirits, talk about it if they need to but only positive thoughts. Laugh at the memories. Go out to lunch, go for walks together, put puzzles together, take her for a car ride.”

Judith W.L.

“I cried behind their back, made their favorite cookies, watched their tv shows with them, and cracked stupid jokes — we were both very into facing fear with humor. So I tried to be brave (I was 18, so it was a stretch). I acted naturally and was whatever they needed me to be… Sometimes, it was just to be quiet, but nearby…”

Karen B.G.

“Provide them with a lot of encouragement. Provide them with their favorite things i.e. chocolate tea coffee let them be the center of your world, maybe provide them with inspired books which they may like.”

April R.

“I tended to a 90 year old aunt that was dying from cancer after my second experience. We talked about the past, looked through pictures, listened to her tell the tales of her childhood, and laughed a lot. We would lotion her legs and hands while we massaged her. Watch TV with her. Just being there means a great deal.”

Judith W.L.

3. Ask for Support

One of the most difficult parts of caring for a parent with cancer is the amount of tasks that can pile up. From daily chores to appointment shuttling, the to-do list can feel overwhelming. It’s human nature to experience difficulty asking for help, but it’s so important for both you and your parent that you get support.

One way to simplify this process is by using CaringBridge’s free Planner tool. Hundreds of thousands of patients and caregivers have used the Planner to get help with tasks like: 

  • Scheduling transportation to doctor appointments
  • Coordinating grocery and/or meal delivery
  • Arranging childcare
  • Taking care of pets
  • Chores and errands
  • Medication reminders
  • Setting up good times to stop by and say hello

No matter how you share these tasks, it’s important to get the help you need. No one can do it all alone.

All of this is ready for you when you start your personal CaringBridge site, which is completely free of charge, ad-free, private and secure. Don’t spend another minute alone.

Don’t go through your health journey alone.

You can stay connected to friends and family, plan and coordinate meals, and experience love from any distance.

All of this is ready for you when you start your personal CaringBridge site, which is completely free of charge, ad-free, private and secure. Don’t spend another minute alone!

“Don’t forget that you can’t pour from an empty cup! You have to take care of yourself to be able to handle what cancer throws at your family. Emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually……”

Molly O.B.

4. Give Them Words of Encouragement and Love

Sometimes hearing a simple “I love you, I’m here for you” can mean the world. Continue to give your mom or dad words of encouragement and love as you take one step at a time, together.

“Call them more often, tell them how they have impacted your life, what they meant to you, how much you love them, talk about memories and enjoy every minute.”

PeggyBob M.

“Time is a gift so say the things you want to say and do things you want to do. Love harder, hug harder and enjoy whatever the day brings. Eat off the good china because today IS a special occasion when spent with those you surround yourself with in life. Remember that a prognosis is simply an average number of people and you aren’t “average”. We lost my mom to brain cancer five years ago and still grieve the loss of an amazing woman. Talking about it helps.”

Andrea C.

5. Find Simple Ways to Take Care of Yourself, Too 

As you love and care for your parent with cancer, look for simple ways to take care of yourself, too. Whether it be a daily walk for a breath of fresh air or listening to your favorite music, set aside moments each day where you can find joy.

“I lost my Mom 30 years ago to cancer, one thing I did to cope was taking a lot of long walks by myself and talked to God to give me peace to handle what was ahead of me because it was terminal, plus going to church helped a lot. But I still miss her to this day and I will be 70 soon.” 

Marva R.

What’s Your Story?

If your mom or dad has received a cancer diagnosis, how did you cope? What helped you to find hope and healing during this difficult period? We welcome your stories and thoughts in the comments below. 

  • Maria Guerrero

    My sister was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and I was heart broken. She is like my mother she is much older then me and has been my rock all my life. It’s so hard for me to get my mind off the end of this journey knowing that she will be gone. I don’t know what to say to her only daughter and only grandson. I can only imagine what they feel as they live with her. I’m blessed that I see her everyday.