Young Adults Caring for a Parent With Cancer

Aprobado por la Junta Editorial de Cancer.Net, 08/2019

If your parent has cancer, you may feel torn between independence as a young adult and helping your parent. Caregiving can be a rewarding way to reconnect with parents. It may also limit your freedom and ability to explore new opportunities.

As a caregiver for your parent, you may be concerned about how to provide support with limited time and resources. Meanwhile, the lives of your friends may revolve around careers, relationships, and outside interests. These differences may cause you to feel alone in managing your new responsibilities and emotions.

The suggestions below could help ease the burden you may feel.


Talking with your parent and siblings is important during an illness. You may feel awkward talking about difficult topics and want to avoid these discussions. But talking about your shared concerns with family members may give you more support. It also helps each family member understand what is expected and needed.

Consider asking a family friend, relative, or even a doctor, nurse, or counselor to help guide these talks.

These tips can help you plan for such discussions:

  • Avoid discussions when you are rushed, if possible. Schedule time for regular meetings.

  • Ask your parent about his or her treatment wishes. Respect those wishes and your parent's right to control his or her own health care decisions.

  • Talk about how to manage finances during your parent’s illness.

  • Set realistic expectations about your caregiving role. Agree to review these expectations on a regular basis.

  • Write a letter to express your thoughts if you find it hard to bring up these topics. This may help set the stage for easier in-person talks.

Manage caregiving responsibilities

Once you have learned what type of help your parent needs, make a list of tasks. These may include giving medical and physical care, managing legal and financial issues, and talking with friends and family. The following list provides some steps to think about:

  • Request a meeting with your parent's health care team to get full information about his or her illness and treatment. The doctor will need permission from your parent to share this information with you. Consider going with your parent to a scheduled appointment.

  • Make sure the doctor has your full contact information. It should be in your parent's file in case of an emergency.

  • Keep a list of key contacts with you at all times. Include the doctor, nurse, social worker, pharmacist, and emergency room. Also, give this list to others who will provide care.

  • Make copies of your parent's legal documents. This includes an advance directive, a power of attorney for health care, and a power of attorney for property. You will also need copies of health insurance cards and other financial information.

  • Have a friend or family member help create a list of people who can help your parent with tasks. By doing this, you are prepared when people ask. Some people create an email list or webpage or use a website to make the process easier.

Learn more about how to manage common caregiving tasks.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. Most friends and family members are willing to help, especially when given specific suggestions. Learn more about sharing responsibilities and other caregiving options.

Seek personal support

Taking care of your own mental health, physical needs, and personal responsibilities makes you a better caregiver. Set aside time to step back from the role reversal and allow others to do the caregiving. This will help you connect with your parent as simply a son or daughter for a while. In addition, try to continue your friendships, romantic relationships, work, and hobbies that refresh you. Investing in yourself will give you more energy to be truly there for your parent.

This sort of balance is often hard to maintain because of lack of time and complex emotions. During this time, use resources for support and find ways to cope with stress. Some ideas include:

  • Checking with your employer's human resources department about the Family Medical Leave Act, Employee Assistance Program, and other benefits.

  • Talking with a friend, clergy member, or counselor to help you cope with your experience.

  • Joining an online or in-person support group.

  • Writing in a journal to express your feelings and record your journey.

  • Saying yes when people offer to help you or your parent.

  • Planning activities with your parent unrelated to his or her cancer.

  • Spending time with supportive friends, even if you need to scale back this time while you juggle other responsibilities.

  • Maintaining your health through regular physical checkups.

  • Exercising regularly.

  • Listening to soothing or uplifting music.

Learn more about how to care of yourself while caregiving.

Related Resources

Caregiving Basics

Caregiving at Home

Long-Distance Caregiving

More Information

CancerCare: Young Adults as Caregivers

Family Caregiver Alliance: Caregiving Issues and Strategies

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