Advice about cancer

Sick Parents Don’t Know What They Need

By June 12, 2013July 5th, 2019No Comments
Image courtesy of David Castillo /

Image courtesy of David Castillo /


Don’t say it.  Don’t say, “Let me know what you need”.   I remember when people would say, “Hey, let me know what you need”, “Let me know what I can do to help”.  I wanted to say to them, “Yeah, let me just add that to the long-ass list of my to do’s.  I will put that right after, find a new boob, and figure out how to care for my kids now that I can’t”!

I should have said, “Can you sleep at my house, on my couch, and let my dogs out in the morning and pick up their sh*%  when I am in the hospital?  Oh, one more thing, can you stand in my driveway and when someone arrives, tell them to leave.  Tell them I am too sick and too tired for guests.  And can you tell them the doorbell reached its ringing max? And don’t forget to tell them I am still trying to figure out what the hell I need, but will let them know when I do”!

I figured it out, I must have.  My family survived.  I am often asked what people who are struggling with cancer and managing young families need, what a father managing his prostate cancer could use to ease his recovery or what a mom under going a mastectomy may need while recovering.

Keep this in mind.  When a parent is diagnosed with a life altering disease their lives are imploded.   A bomb has landed in their home and they are left trying clean up the damage and figure out what needs to be done, all the while trying to process their own diagnosis.  Suddenly, a parent and spouse have monumental amounts of information to process in addition to managing the home and nurturing their children.  So please, don’t ask them “to let you know”  if they need anything because they do not know what they need.

But here is what they do know:

*They do know their children still need them and the order and routine in the home.  They know they won’t be able to manage it alone. So help them manage their home.

*They do know that they are scared, but can’t show their pain for fear their children will see it in their eyes.  So comfort them.

*They know their mortality has been questioned and their children and loved ones could live a long life, without them. So be there for their children and loved ones.

*They do know that they are afraid about how their children will be affected by their diagnosis. So be conscious and considerate about how this is affecting them.

*And they do know, that they don’t know, how they will feel after surgery, and what the chemo or radiation will do to their already weakened spirit. And they don’t know how their children, partner or spouse will feel seeing them sick, weak and with no hair.  So tell them they are beautiful and their soul will continue to radiate light and love, no matter how they look.

Here are some tips for helping a sick parent

*Help them with the routine. Find out their children’s favorite foods.  What they eat for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner.  So often people make “dinners” for the family, but let’s face it, every family has a picky eater or two.  Make sure they have a supply of what would make snack time and lunch packing easy to do.

*Go and do their laundry.  Make sure their children’s favorite clothes are clean.

*Take their kids on fun play dates where they run and play and get rid of all the energy!  A sick parent may not remember the dinner, but will remember who put a smile on their child’s face.

*Respect the parents and don’t talk about their illness in front of their children.

*Be a good listener and try not to talk about someone else’s condition and how their cancer compares. They don’t want to hear it.

*Don’t tell them you know a better doctor, hospital or specialist.  Honor their decisions regarding their choices of treatment or care.  This is their journey.  They will make the choices.  Respect them.

*When you are with their kids in school, at a sporting event or on a play date, take lots pictures and put them in an album or scrapbook.  Seeing their children in a joyful way is a beautiful gift.

*When they go to the hospital, frame a picture of the family for them to take. Get them a soft blanket or new pillow, soft socks or great lip-balm for the hospital stay.

*Organize an area for drop off of items and supplies that include every day necessities such as laundry soap and paper towels, juice boxes, snacks and drinks for the family.

*There are many ways to help a parent with cancer.  Just remember to do for them what you would want someone to do for you.  Follow their lead.  This is their journey and they will survive the journey in their own way.  Respect their plan, their pain, their privacy and their choices.  Parents with cancer need help.  They may not ask, they may not want it, but…they need it.   So help them.