Here’s how you can support a parent with cancer while coping yourself

Surely, it’s a tough spot to be in. But handling the situation sensibly can help you a great deal. Here are some ways that can help you deal better.
parent diagnosed with cancer
A parent's cancer diagnosis can turn your world upside down. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Sonakshi Kohli Published: 2 Feb 2020, 14:00 pm IST
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Whether we say it out loud or not, acknowledge it or take it for granted, the love we all have for our parents is unparalleled for sure.

And God forbid, if something as dreaded and deadly as cancer strikes our birth-givers, we’re bound to get hit by the resulting emotional trauma as well.

“A plethora of questions engulf us: How will we take care of the situation? Why is it happening to my parent? How will we ever get out of this? And in an instant our entire world goes upside down as we lose the power of thinking and are suddenly directionless,” says Dr. Poonam Poonia, Ph.D in clinical psychology and psychotherapist at Wellstar Clinic & Diagnostic Pvt. Ltd., Gurugram.

“The uncertainty that the illness brings with it can further create a sense of insecurity within a child and can lead to the experience of excessive worry, anxiety, and depression, adds Ms. Kamna Chhibber, head, Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Memorial Research Institute (FMRI), Gurugram.

While both the experts agree on the fact that it is extremely emotionally disturbing, they also suggest the following ways to handle the duress and deal with the situation better:

Firstly, be patient and calm
“Open communication is a must to facilitate a child’s adaptation to the diagnosis of cancer of the parent. Hiding information or the intensity of the problem can lead to harbouring of doubts in the child and deplete his/her trust and confidence in the parent. It is important to keep providing information and reassurance in an appropriate manner,” Chhiber points out.

parent diagnosed with cancer
If your parent is diagnosed with cancer, give them your ultimate support.
Image courtesy: Shutterstock

However, doing so for a parent can be particularly difficult. Hence, in order to get your parent to actually be able to talk honestly and clearly about their condition, lending them a patient ear without showing signs of distress/anger/negative emotions is an absolute must. This way, you can strengthen your trust in their words as well as strengthen their belief in your capability of handling the situation sensibly and calmly.

Also, read: Breast cancer is an epidemic. Here’s how you can reduce your risk

Be actively involved in the treatment process
“It is important to stay fully informed by seeking information from the experts—oncologists, psychologists, and nutritionists—about what is going on and how things need to be done,” says Chhibber.

This enables the development of a sense of control, apart from equipping you with the knowledge to deal with the situation better.

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Understand your parent’s emotional state
It is important to understand that for your parent, being diagnosed with cancer can lead to immense physical, emotional, and psychological turmoil.

“Besides having to cope with an illness that increasingly induces a feeling of dread, cancer diagnosis can lead to a strong sense of responsibility in a person towards ensuring the well-being of other family members as well as enormous guilt of being a ‘burden’ on the rest of the family,” Chhiber explains.

This readjustment process along with the resulting body-image issues can further lead to your parent becoming way too self-critical and developing immense anxiety or depressive features according to her.

Being aware of this impact on your parent can help you step into their shoes—especially during the times when they may act aloof, cranky, or too demanding—instead of losing your calm or getting angry.

Understand your own emotional state as well
Surely, the news of a parent suffering from cancer can be quite disturbing and it’s absolutely natural to feel sad, disheartened, fearful, angry, and even frustrated at times.

However, it is important for you to acknowledge your struggles and the fact that you need to vent out your emotions as well.

“Do not try to be stoic, attempting to absorb everything that is going on. Seeking support and confiding in friends or family members or even a professional is rather important as it is essential to keep working through the emotions that one is experiencing,” suggests Chhibber.

“Finding support in spirituality and utilizing it to build hopefulness can benefit many as well in coping with the prevailing circumstance,” she adds.

Acknowledge and accept the situation
Cancer can happen to anyone at any point in their lives. So, instead of looking for a reason to blame, accept this fact and concentrate on the path to recovery for your parent.

That said, Chhibber stresses on the importance of setting realistic expectations from the treatment based on the doctor’s analysis so as to prepare yourself for the results—all this while keeping an optimistic approach as much as possible.

Spend quality time with them
By quality time, we mean, that of positive talks, of topics other than the disease, and those that you can bond over.

parent diagnosed with cancer
A parent diagnosed with cancer can feel quite low and depressed. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“Give your parents as much time as possible. Sit with them, empathize with them, read books to them, take them out, and involve them in day-to-day work to keep them distracted. Because the more they will think about the disease, the more they are likely to get depressed or upset,” says Dr. Poonia.

Also, read: 5 things your ageing parents want you to know but won’t tell you, expert reveals

Take care of yourself too
“Taking out time to recharge your mind and body can help you be fit and that would result in productive engagement with your parent,” Dr. Poonia points out.

She suggests that you try to keep your routine on track, don’t neglect your stress and your personal space, meditate, practice yoga, go for a brisk walk every day in fresh air, eat well, and get adequate sleep.

Don’t refrain from seeking support
Not just in terms of venting your emotions, but also in terms of sharing responsibility. Taking care of the house, keeping track of the medicine doses, doctor visits, test results, your job—everything together can make you break down. So, don’t try to handle it all by yourself and reach out to friends and family members for help in terms of sharing responsibility to lessen your burden.

“Support systems are irreplaceable in such circumstances. They have strong mediating effects,” Chhibber points out.

Encourage your parents to be independent
You can even share responsibilities with your parents by encouraging them to be independent according to Dr. Poonia.

Let them carry on the activities such as taking their medicines and meals on time, keeping a track of their doctor visits, etc. while keeping a check on them from afar so that they don’t miss out.

Basically, let them do whatever they can and do not stop them. This can prevent your parent from feeling pitied, burdening, and depressed. In fact, do not give them a sense that something “wrong” has happened to them. Even if your parent is diagnosed with cancer, help them maintain a positive outlook.

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