What the parent is experiencing

The effects of cancer and the side effects of its treatment will vary significantly depending on what type of cancer the parent has, and how advanced the cancer is.

General chemotherapy symptoms can include extreme tiredness, severe nausea, hearing problems, and balance problems. Patients can suffer exhaustion for a long time, sometimes up to a year, after chemotherapy has finished, and some side effects are permanent.

Radiotherapy is particularly exhausting, even without chemotherapy. It can be debilitating regardless of what part of the body is radiated.

Changes in appearance (hair loss, weight loss), mobility, memory (“chemo brain” or “chemo fog”), and energy levels, can affect a parent’s ability to care for their child.

A parent with cancer often feels high levels of anxiety as well as other negative emotions such as sadness, embarrassment, depression, anger, and withdrawal. These feelings combined with feelings of inadequacy about not looking after their child’s basic needs can greatly impact their level of coping.

Examples of how treatment of different cancer types can affect family life

  • Bowel cancers can mean colostomy bags and toilet difficulties
  • Stomach, upper GI track cancers can mean not being able to eat, or being fed through a tube
  • Head and neck cancers can cause severe disfigurement.