8 Tips for Coping With a Parent’s Cancer Diagnosis While in College


Last year, in the middle of my fall semester, Mom was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. She needed emergency surgery. Everything was happening so quickly, and I couldn’t tell up from down. Yet, through this turbulent semester, I learned eight ways to cope with Mom’s cancer diagnosis while attending college.  

1. Accept the diagnosis.

When Mom was first diagnosed with cancer, I desperately denied it. I couldn’t bury my head in the sand deep enough. Not accepting the truth hurt me more than accepting the truth. Denial is like a stumbling block that doesn’t allow you to move on while acceptance is a long stretch of road. You might not know where you are going to end up, which can cause increased anxiety, but at least you’re going someplace. 

2. Build a support system for you.

After Mom went into surgery, I took over her household duties on top of my own college and work duties. It was overwhelming. There were times when I was so stressed out all I could do was cry. With the help from extended family, friends and religious counseling, I was able to make my own support system. They were there for me by visiting me, helping me run errands or just giving me a hug. 

Other free support tools include hospital support groups for loved ones of cancer patients, cancer support hotlines and counseling at your college.   

3. Be honest with your professors.

In the beginning of the semester, I was in two online classes and one on-campus class. I would show up early to my on-campus class. Then, because of Mom’s pre-surgery needs, I started coming to class late. When I told my professor I would need take two weeks off to help Mom with post-surgery, he was very supportive. Thanks to his support, I was able to stay in that class and learn more about a subject that I enjoyed.   

 4. It’s OK to take less classes or time off.

Realizing that Mom needed more help than we had expected, I had to rearrange my class schedule. If you feel that you need to either drop a class or take a semester off, contact a counselor at your college. They can help you modify your classes and academic plan to your needs. But remember, if you decide to drop a class or classes, you can always retake them later. Don’t add unneeded stress to an already painful situation.

5. You cannot control the cancer.

As much as I don’t want Mom to suffer, there was nothing that I could do about the cancer. You cannot control something that’s out of your power. Although there are things we can control in our daily life, like submitting homework early, there is no guarantee that submitting the homework will be problem free. Your printer could jam while printing your homework or your aunt’s cat could use your homework as its new scratching toy. Although I can make suggestions, at the end of the day, Mom and her doctors will make the best decision to deal with the cancer. And I have to trust that.     

6. Don’t let the cancer consume you.

During the beginning of Mom’s cancer, I constantly thought about all the awful things that could happen to
her. When she suffered complications after her first surgery, my imagination went wild. The fear of losing Mom was so strong. Every time I had a dream, it was nightmare of the cancer taking her. As difficult as it was not to think about what could happen, I tried to focus on what I could do to help her.    

7. Find positive outlets.

To deal with the stress and pain of Mom’s cancer, I found multiple outlets to channel that nervous energy
into something positive. My outlets included dancing, watching happy movies and comedy television shows, surfing YouTube, listening to music, reading, knitting, going to comedy shows, putting together cutie outfits and writing. These outlets have helped me to calm my nerves.

8. Take care of yourself.

I cannot stress this enough. The best way to help your parent is to help yourself. If you neglect your needs and overwork yourself, you will make yourself sick. Getting yourself sick not only puts more stress on you, it also puts more stress on your parent. As difficult as it is to find time to care for yourself, you have to. To take just a few quiet minutes to lie down can make a world of difference. 

As difficult it is to cope with a parent with cancer, I find comfort in knowing that this experience is making me a stronger, more dependable person.

Image via Thinkstock Images.

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