- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking about treatment
- Family life during treatment
Family life during treatment
In this section we discuss the affect treatment may have on family life and ways to manage this.
Learn more about:
- Acknowledging disappoinment
- Managing emotions
- Encouraging family time
- Spending one-on-one time
- Maintaining discipline
- Encouraging children to help
- Single-parent families
- Staying in touch
If you are a parent with cancer, you may be keen to keep life as normal as possible for your kids during treatment. But this can be challenging when you are coping with treatment and recovery, because of frequent trips to the hospital, changes to your appearance or lower energy levels. You may feel guilty about not being able to do all the usual things with, and for, your kids. You may try to push yourself to keep going, but some days this may not feel possible.
There are no easy answers to this problem, but you can make the most of your good days by forgetting the housework and doing fun things with the family. On the not-so-good days, let your kids know, rather than trying to protect them from the reality of how you’re feeling.
It is normal for children to think mostly of themselves and how a situation affects them. Some older children and teenagers may seem annoyed about the diagnosis and uncaring of their parent. You may find their reaction hurtful or frustrating, but it is age-appropriate. Other teenagers may take on too much responsibility around the house, and lose touch with their friends. It’s also important for them to maintain social networks.
It can be helpful to acknowledge your child’s disappointment: “I know you’re finding it frustrating that I can’t watch you play soccer like I usually do, but I am not feeling well and I just need some quiet time right now.”
It’s also important that children and teenagers understand that how they behave won’t affect your health and recovery. Children can sometimes feel that if they are not quiet, their parent won’t get better. You may like to tell younger children: “I know you feel upset that I can’t play with you. I am sad too, but I am very tired. Let’s think about what we can do tomorrow when I feel better.”
If you are a parent caring for someone with cancer, such as your partner or your own parent, you may feel like you have little time and energy left for your children. Although asking for and accepting help can be difficult, it may relieve some pressure and allow you to spend more time together as a family.
See Caring for someone with cancer to learn ways to look after yourself and how to take a break – and you can also find a list of support services for carers.
Podcast: Family Dynamics and Cancer
Prof Jane Turner AM, International Psycho-Oncology Society President Emeritus,The University of Queensland, QLD; Taylor Baker, Consumer; Dr Ben Britton, Principal Clinical and Health Psychologist, Head of Psychology, Hunter New England Mental Health, NSW; Camp Quality; Dr Lisa Cuddeford, Head of Department, WA Paediatric Palliative Care Service, Perth Children’s Hospital, WA; A/Prof Peter Downie, Head, Paediatric Haematology–Oncology and Director, Children’s Cancer Centre, Monash Children’s Hospital, VIC; Dr Sarah Ellis, Clinical Psychologist, Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Malia Emberson-Lafoa’i, Consumer; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Jane Gillard, Consumer; Mary McGowan OAM, International Childhood Cancer Advocate, VIC; Annette Polizois, Senior Social Worker, Women, Family and Emergency Care Team, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Rhondda Rytmeister, Clinical Psychologist, HeadWayHealth (formerly Snr Clinical Psychologist, The Cancer Centre for Children, Westmead, NSW); Nadine Street, Head of Social Work and Social Welfare, HNE Mental Health Service, NSW; Warren Summers, Online Counsellor, Canteen, NSW.
We would also like to thank the health professionals, consumers, organisations and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title, and we are grateful to the parents and young people whose real-life stories have added to the richness and relevance of this book.
We thank and acknowledge Dr Paula K. Rauch, MD, Founder and Director, Marjorie E. Korff PACT (Parenting At a Challenging Time) Program and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, whose research and writing on helping parents talk to their children about cancer was used as source material for this book and has been adapted in several sections: pages 8–11, How children understand cancer; page 22, Answering key questions: Are you going to die?; page 26, Involving the school or preschool; pages 30–31, Hospital visits; and pages 36–37, Encouraging family time. We also thank the American Cancer Society for permission to use and adapt material on pages 8-11 from its book Cancer in Our Family: Helping children cope with a parent’s illness (2013); Macmillan Cancer Support for permission to use its book Talking to Children and Teenagers When an Adult Has Cancer (2013) as a source of information; Jessica Watt, Oncology Social Worker, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, for her contribution on page 20, When another child has cancer; and Diane McGeachy, Hobart Counselling Centre, for contributing material for page 37, Spending one-on-one time.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.