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Dealing with Cancer in the Family: Celebrating Special Occasions

For teenagers who have parents with cancer, it can be difficult to feel happiness and fun as they participate in their usual family activities and events. These teenagers are worried about their parent’s health. They’re also mourning the loss of the “normal” family experiences they’ve always known.

We asked Kathy Maxwell, formerly of The Gathering Place (an organization that provides free support services for families who are touched by cancer), for her advice on how to approach special occasions, including holidays, after a difficult diagnosis.

3 Tips for Planning a Celebration When Someone has Cancer:

1. Talk about it.

“It’s important for these families to talk about family activities such as meals or vacations or special events in advance, in particular what’s going to make it meaningful,” explains Maxwell. “When cancer is in the family, it’s an opportunity for deepening experiences.” Teenagers will already sense that this birthday or occasion will be different than in year’s past. But they may be anxious about what that means. Putting it out there as a topic for discussion will help everyone relax.

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2. Acknowledge what’s different.

Start by talking about things may be different this year. “In some families, teenagers may be called upon to help in ways they haven’t had to do before,” Maxwell explains. “Also, it’s okay to acknowledge that it’s different, and it might bring some disappointment.”

3. Identify what will be special for your family.

Then explore, with your teenager, how to make an occasion for your family at this particular time. “Often, families find it’s about spending time together in a different way than they have in the past. That can include the ways that help families express how much they care about each other.” If possible, it can also include traveling or other family experiences. These will be remembered for many years to come.

Read one family's personal story here:

Adds Maxwell: “When you have cancer in the family, you do want to celebrate what you have right here, right now.”

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.

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