Hearing the news that your parent or carer has cancer and is not going to get any better may be one of the hardest things that you ever have to hear. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way of preparing for the death of your parent. Everyone’s story and situation is unique.
There are a number of things that may affect how you can prepare, for example, how old you are, your relations with your parent, how you support each other in your family as well as whether you have support from friends and others around you. It also depends on what your parent is capable of doing and whether they are at home, in a hospital or a hospice.
What does it mean?
If you are told that your parent won’t get any better, it will mean that the cancer can no longer be controlled by any further treatment and the doctors can do no more to stop the cancer from growing. All treatment that your parent has been offered may stop, and they may give them medication to reduce their pain.
What might life be like now?
It’s very likely that you are your family will have a lot of change and disruption during this time. If you are at home, it may well be that you have a lot of medical staff coming in and out at different times of day. They will be there to look after your family, and to make sure that your parent is as comfortable as possible by giving them medication to help with any pain and other symptoms.
It might be that your parent looks very different to how they did before the cancer, and that can be difficult to adjust to. It’s also possible that friends and teachers might act differently around you if they feel unsure about how best to help.
What can I do to help?
It’s normal to want to help your parent when they are seriously ill but it can be difficult to know what to do. Just being with your parent, talking to them, reading to them or telling them jokes can help. Just spending time together is important and it’s ok to just be yourself.
It can be hard to feel ok or enjoy things when someone you love is in pain, but it’s ok for you to have happy thoughts and times too.
Making sure you get some time out is also important to be with friends or do things you enjoy. This may not be easy to do as much as before, but it’s good to try.
What might you be feeling?
When a parent is terminally ill, it can bring up a lot of different emotions like sadness, anxiety, anger, loneliness and guilt for instance. It might be that you have thoughts like “why my mum/dad?” or “I’ll do anything if they could just be there for my birthday”.
There is no right or wrong way to feel or react, however it is really important to express your feelings. If we bottle up our emotions they can build and become much harder to cope with as opposed to dealing with them when they come. Sharing how you feel won’t take away the pain of what you are experiencing, however it can help to share your feelings rather than carrying it all alone.
Some young people worry that they may get a similar illness when they become older. Again, talking about this and sharing this with your family may help. You can also ask the doctor about this, as most often the illness is not genetic and so is not something that can be passed on from parent to child.
How could you use the time you have left?
One really important thing to think about is whether there is anything that you would like to do or say with your parent whilst they are still alive. This can be really hard to think about, and there are no right or wrong answers about you should spend the time.
Some people want to just carry on with their lives as normal as possible, doing the things they would usually do. Other families want to go to new or favourite places, or spend lots of time with each other.
You might want to spend some time thinking about how you would like it to be, and speak to the rest of your family to find out what they would like to do. Here are some ideas:
- Perhaps you want to talk to your parent about how you’re felling?
- Ask them some questions about their life?
- Perhaps you could go through any photos that you have of you both together and talk about what you remember about that time?
- Some young people have found it helpful to write their parent a letter expressing how they feel about them and what they will remember.
- Or sometimes a hug says it all.
Whilst it can be a really hard thing to do, it can be much harder if you hold onto these things until it’s too late to talk to your parent directly.
Do you have any questions?
It might be that you have questions about your parent’s cancer, or feel that there are things that you don’t understand or feel uncertain about. It’s ok to have these questions and it can really help to find someone you trust to ask.
Perhaps some of the medical staff might be able to answer some your questions – they will have lots of experience in supporting families affected by cancer.
There will be many practical things to think about when someone is going to die which adults will take responsibility for, but if you feel like there are things you would like to be more involved in, it’s ok to ask about this.