Supporting a loved one with cancer as a young adult? Follow this advice
As a young adult, it can be difficult supporting someone with cancer. Whether it’s your parent, grandparent, or family friend, learning how to manage your loved one’s cancer diagnosis while figuring out your place in the world can be challenging.
I can relate to this situation because I was a young adult who suddenly had to figure out how to support my mom and grandma when they were both diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. Their diagnoses came within a month apart during the spring semester of my junior year of college. I was conflicted: Do I go home and help my dad care for them since he was alone? How can I support them from miles away? What did they need from me?
During this time, I didn’t have the answers to these questions. I felt alone and struggled to balance my life away from home with the responsibilities I thought I had toward my loved ones.
I recently spoke with Lauren Adams, clinical program manager for Social Work, who shared this advice to help other young adults supporting loved ones with cancer.
Use online resources provided for caregivers
It’s normal to feel alone after finding out a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. You may feel like none of your friends can relate, but there are many ways to find people who share your experience.
“One of the big things that can be very helpful is connecting with peers for support,” says Adams.
MD Anderson offers a one-on-one cancer support community called myCancerConnection. You can be matched with another person your age who is caring for someone with the same cancer diagnosis as your loved one.
Balance your independence while supporting a loved one
As a young adult, you are trying to figure out who you are and how you fit into the world. A loved one’s cancer diagnosis can impact this coming-of-age part of your life.
The main way to keep your independence while being present for your loved one is by prioritizing yourself.
“We all have a finite amount of physical, emotional and mental energy that we can give during the day,” Adams says. “If we spend all our energy pouring out of our cups, we are going to run out of energy. We won’t have anything to give our loved one.”
Start by taking some time for yourself. Go exercise, have a little quiet time, call a friend, anything that gives you a break from your responsibilities.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask a family member or friend to do the laundry, pick up the mail or anything that will allow you to have some time to yourself.
“We must fill our cups before we can pour into somebody else’s,” says Adams. “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
How to support from a distance
You may not live in the same state as your loved one with cancer. For example, you could be in college, and your family is back home. This can be hard because you aren’t the primary caregiver and might feel like you aren’t doing enough.
“Even if you can’t be the direct caregiver, sometimes you can help by delegating,” says Adams.
You can still be involved and support your loved one from afar. If you’re tech-savvy, you can help by ordering a grocery delivery or searching online to find a cleaner to help around the house.
MD Anderson even allows you to FaceTime into appointments to take notes or offer comfort to the patient.
Get help to prepare for tough conversations
Having tough conversations about your loved one’s diagnosis and treatment plans can be hard when you’re young and caring for a parent or grandparent with cancer. Your roles are reversed. Parents don’t want to burden their kids with their problems, and you don’t want to make your parents uncomfortable by asking.
Adams suggests reaching out to a social work counselor who can help young caregivers plan for how the conversation may go.
“You can start by having a conversation about how you can be involved and what the patient needs from you,” says Adams. “If you are still having trouble discussing certain topics, contact a social work counselor, either just for yourself or for you and the patient, so you both can be on the same page.”
Build your natural support system
Getting support online from people who have shared similar experiences is important. But there will be times when you need support from the people around you, and they may not have that same experience.
“I would encourage people to reach out to their natural support system as well. This could be their friends and family,” says Adams. “There are times when you don’t want your whole world to revolve around cancer, so you don’t want your entire support system to be specifically other cancer patients and caregivers. It’s important, but you don’t want that to be everything.”
You can start by having a conversation with your support system. Explain what you need and how you need them to support you. It can be awkward in the beginning, but these are the people who want to help you. They want to be there for you during this difficult time.