5 Reminders for Parents Trying to Juggle a Cancer Diagnosis *and* Raise a Family

Posted: March 29, 2022






Mental Health


When you’re a parent with kids in the house, your mind almost immediately thinks of them first — “Did I grab the diaper bag?” or “Sammy’s school is going virtual this week, so I’ll have to miss the event.” It’s no different when there’s a cancer diagnosis for you or a partner. Your mind naturally will go to, “What about the kids?”

Sometimes the most challenging part about a cancer diagnosis is the heavy burden of telling your family, especially the little ones. Regardless of if you’re the one personally going through treatment or your loved one is, we need to have some #realtalk about what it’s like to parent with cancer. Here are five reminders for this season in life that make the newborn phase seem like a breeze.

Read Cancer and kids: The world’s toughest conversation? for more on how and what to talk to kids about a parent’s cancer diagnosis. 

1. Remember, little people have big emotions (and more capacity for understanding than you think).

Leaving space for kids’ coping, questions, and conversations can feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. Blogger Ashadee Miller said it beautifully in her post about a cancer diagnosis parenting two young kids:

“How do you tell your young children that their whole world is being turned upside down? Or that their once energetic mama will be bound to a chair, exhausted in every way, for months on end?

How do you teach them about the beauty of heaven while also helping them hold on to hope? How do you help them grieve and scream and cry while trying to process it all yourself with ‘chemo brain?’ And how does your heart not shatter when you see the fear and pain in their eyes?”

Yes, kids have big emotions. But they also have empathy and space to hold truths. 

Be as honest as you can be with kids about cancer, to whatever degree their age allows. Don’t hide things, because they will notice

For instance, toddlers can be told, “Mommy is sick. She will have to rest on the couch sometimes even when you want to play,” or “Nana is getting special medicine that will help her feel better, but she will not have hair for a little bit. We can draw a picture to make her feel beautiful!” 

Older kids will understand more, and you can choose how much or how little to let them in on when it comes to all the treatment deets. You never know how their coping may end up helping you in your healing process. 

Utilize resources like blogs and books to help you navigate this time. Check out the book My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks for teens, or When Someone You Love Has Cancer: A Guide to Help Kids Cope, and Nowhere Hair: Explains Your Cancer and Chemo To Kids for littles.

2. Try to keep a semblance of a routine. 

Every parent knows keeping a schedule is *gold* for littles. Routines are especially important when business isn’t going as usual. 

Whether or not your family modifies the weekly schedule (chances are you will), routines can help things feel comfortable and safe. This could look like hiring a sitter to drive to and from sports practices, or simply keeping small traditions, like family dinners and fun weekend game nights. Who knows, you may even create some new ones to keep for years to come. 

Utilize a family calendar that everyone can see and access to help the family feel like one team even when activities get shifted around.

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