Advice for the College Student with a Parent with Cancer

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

There are thousands of college students in Ithaca and quite a few have a parent living with cancer. They often wonder how they can help their parent, and their parent often worries about them. Here are some suggestions:

For the college student:

  • Educate yourself about your parent’s cancer. Some cancers are likely to be temporary disruptions, while others are truly life-changing. You’ll be more helpful if you have a basic understanding of your parent’s specific cancer.
  • Don’t be afraid of asking questions. What we imagine is almost always worse than the reality.
  • Don’t drift away. Communicate on a regular basis. Your concern and your love come through by staying in touch.
  • Find someone that you can talk to about your parent’s illness. It can be a sibling, a friend, a counselor, or someone else. You probably don’t want advice, but you will want someone to listen to you without judgment and without interruption.
  • Live your life as normally as possible. The last thing most parents want to do is disrupt your life.

 

For the parent:

  • Be honest. There’s a tendency to want to sugarcoat bad news. It’s better to be truthful. Your children don’t want to wonder if you’re telling them the whole truth.
  • Don’t depend on your child as your primary source of emotional support.
  • Encourage your child to enjoy college. It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore and to mature.

 

With cancer, there’s almost always some degree of uncertainty. No one knows for sure how an individual will respond to treatment or how their disease will behave in the future. Sometimes the most reasonable course of action is for everyone to assume the best and to continue to move forward. If thing do change, keep everyone informed and in the loop. Above all, communicate frequently and honestly.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here to see all of Bob’s columns

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