Oncologist-approved cancer information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology
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Young Adults Caring for a Parent With Cancer

Many young adults who have a parent with cancer feel torn between their focus on establishing themselves in the world and their duty and desire to help a parent who is facing a serious illness. While caregiving can be a rewarding way to reconnect with parents, it can also change a phase of life that is typically marked by exploration and freedom.

For example, while the lives of your friends continue to revolve around careers, relationships, and recreational activities, your concerns are likely focused on how to provide support with limited time and resources. As a result, you may feel isolated as you try to help your parent while dealing with your own emotional response to the situation and managing the responsibilities in your own life.

However, there are steps you can take to ease the burden you may feel.


Communication with your parent (and any siblings you have) is particularly important during an illness. You may feel uncomfortable discussing difficult topics, wanting to avoid those conversations. However, talking about your shared worries, concerns, and hopes can provide some relief. In addition, it is helpful to establish a mutual understanding of expectations. If you find it difficult to get started, think about involving a friend of the family or a relative, or even a doctor, nurse, or counselor, to help facilitate communication. Here are some points to consider when planning for these discussions:

  • Make time to discuss concerns about the illness and plans for managing the treatment when there is not a crisis and time is not rushed, if possible.
  • Ask your parent about treatment wishes, and respect those wishes, acknowledging your parent's right to retain control of decisions regarding his or her care.
  • Discuss how finances will be handled.
  • Discuss expectations about visits, responsibility for care, and other matters, and agree to review these expectations regularly.
  • If talking in person is difficult, write a letter to express your thoughts.

Managing caregiving responsibilities

Once you have found out what type of help your parent needs and wants, set up a system to organize your responsibilities. To start, create a list of tasks. These may include participating in medical and physical care, addressing legal and financial issues, and communicating with friends and family. The following list provides some ideas to consider:

  • Request a meeting with your parent's health care team to get clear, accurate information about your parent's illness and treatment. (The doctor will need permission from your parent to share such information.) It may be best to accompany your parent to a scheduled appointment.
  • Be sure that the doctor has your full contact information included as part of your parent's file.
  • Keep a list of key contacts (such as the doctor, nurse, social worker, pharmacist, and emergency room) with you at all times, and distribute it to others who will assist with caregiving.
  • Make copies of your parent's legal documents, such as advance directives, a power of attorney for health care, and a power of attorney for property, health insurance cards, and bank documents.
  • Ask neighbors, siblings, and friends to assist with tasks, such as laundry, housekeeping, grocery shopping, and transportation.
  • Organize a support network of friends and family your parent can rely on for assistance with household tasks, transportation to doctors' appointments, and other needs.
  • Set up an e-mail list to provide updates to relatives and friends more efficiently. Or, keep family members and friends in the loop by setting up a webpage where you can post updates. Learn more about keeping connected through online communities for support.

Learn more about how to manage common caregiving responsibilities.

Seeking personal support

It is important to remember that taking care of your own emotional health, physical needs, and personal responsibilities makes you a more effective caregiver. Preserve time to just be your parent's son or daughter, while you allow others to do the caregiving. In addition, continue your friendships, romantic relationships, work, and hobbies as much as possible. Investing in yourself will give you more energy and the ability to be truly present and available for your parent.

During this time, take advantage of resources for support and find ways to cope with stress. Some ideas include the following:

  • Check with your employer's human resources manager about the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and other benefits.
  • Talk with a friend, clergy member, or counselor who is not involved in the situation.
  • Join an online or in-person support group.
  • Plan activities with your parent that are not related to his or her cancer.
  • Make time for activities with supportive friends, even if you have to scale back a bit.
  • Maintain your health through regular physical checkups.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • When people offer to help you or your parent, say yes.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Listen to soothing or uplifting music.

Learn more about how you can care for yourself while caregiving.

More Information

Tips on Caregiving

Long-Distance Caregiving


Additional resources

CancerCare: Young Adult Caregiver Resources

Family Caregiver Alliance: Practical Tools and Resources for Caregivers

National Cancer Institute: When Someone You Love is Being Treated for Cancer

Last Updated: March 31, 2011

© 2005-2014 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). All rights reserved worldwide.

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