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Helping your adult child cope

Adult children of someone with cancer often have the responsibilities (careers, homes and so on) of an adult and may also have children of their own. Now that they may have to take care of you, their parent, they may feel overwhelmed with all the responsibilities in their lives. They may also feel like they are living in 2 different worlds.

Your relationship with your adult child may change with you or your spouse’s diagnosis of cancer. For example, you may:

  • Ask them to take on duties like paying bills or taking care of the house.
  • Ask them to go with you to your doctor’s visits and explain information you’ve received from your doctor.
  • Rely on them for emotional support.
  • Become closer to them and find that your family is closer after the cancer diagnosis.
  • Want them to spend a lot of time with you. This can be hard, especially if they have jobs or families of their own.
  • Find it hard to receive – rather than give – comfort and support from your children.
  • Feel uncomfortable if you need them to help you with physical care such as feeding or bathing.

Even grown-up, adult children are often scared of the possibility of losing a parent. They may feel guilty if they haven’t been close to you or if they can’t spend a lot of time with you because they live far away or have other responsibilities. Some of these feelings may make it harder to talk or relate to your adult children.

These ideas may help your adult child cope:

  • Talk to them about your treatment. Let them know your thoughts and wishes about your treatment and care.
  • Make the most of the time you have together. Express all your feelings – not just love but also anxiety, sadness and anger. Talk about how much you mean to each other.
  •  Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. It’s better to share your feelings rather than hide them. You may find that your family actually becomes closer through the cancer experience.
  • Let them know they should talk to their doctor about their risk of developing cancer if they’re worried. You may also ask your doctor about risk factors for your children.


Rosemary Pedlar After seeing a Canadian Cancer Society call for volunteers in a newspaper, Rosemary knew that this was her opportunity to get started.

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