Living with Cancer & Raising Teenagers: 5 Questions for Authors Marc & Maya Silver

Marc and Maya Silver.  Photo courtesy of Doug Kapustin for USA Today

Marc and Maya Silver.
Photo courtesy of Doug Kapustin for USA Today

Marc and Maya Silver, a father-daughter duo, co-wrote the book My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks. When Maya’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided to collaborate with her father to provide an all-encompassing resource for families with teens who are affected by a parent’s cancer. Their book offers reflection on their own personal experiences and insight on parenting teens when cancer has affected the family.

Marc and Maya recently shared their experiences on an episode of Frankly Speaking About Cancer. Below are a few of their responses. Click here to hear the full radio show.

1.      How may teens react differently to a parent’s cancer than children of other ages?

What we found is that teens have a much more diverse range of emotions that they experience, so it’s not just sadness and fear. It’s also guilt and misunderstanding. They want to be there for their parents, but they also want to go out and live their teenage life with friends. When they do spend time with friends, there is often guilt about not being home. The teenage years are usually a time when teens are pulling away from the family and gaining independence. The introduction of cancer into the family can often make this difficult.

2.      What are some tips you have for teens about talking to their friends about their parent’s diagnosis?

It’s kind of a tricky issue because even if you’re friends are well-intentioned, they probably don’t know the right thing to say because they lack the life experience. They may say things like “I know how you feel” or “My aunt had cancer,” which may make you feel even worse. The best advice we can give is to be direct with friends about what you need. For example, you can tell friends to not bring up your parent’s diagnosis while at school or ask them to call you every night to catch up.

3.      You mentioned that many teens will often spend a lot of time away from the home when a parent has cancer. Can you expand on why this occurs?

It doesn’t mean that the teen doesn’t care. It just means that it may be difficult for them to be around their parent when they are coping with cancer. They may find solace in leaving and spending time with friends instead of staying at home. This is essentially the opposite of another way teens cope, called “parentification.” In this situation, teens will often take on the role of a parent—doing chores around the house that they didn’t before or taking care of younger siblings as though they were a parent.

4.      How can parents help their teens when they react in one of these ways so that the family can still spend time together but still give the teen some space?

If the teens understand what you need from them, it can be very helpful. That way the teens will know exactly what helps the parents and not feel guilty spending time with friends or take on too many responsibilities. However, it’s difficult to change the ways people react, so you have to work with the situation. For some, it may help them to feel needed around the house and spend time with the parent. Either way, you can’t try to force your kids to stay home or go out with friends. The situation is different for every teen.

5.      How does the cancer experience within the family affect relationships between siblings?

Petty arguments can often define sibling relationships, especially in the teenage years. Trying to set those aside and working as a “united front” when dealing with a parent’s cancer, although difficult, can be very helpful. Siblings can try to check in with each other every day to see how they can help each other while their parent is going through treatment.

As My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks demonstrates, the effects of a parent’s cancer on teenagers can be challenging. Teens react in a variety of ways, and it is often important for the lines of communication to be open with their parents to find out the best solutions, as Marc and Maya did. For tips on parenting throughout the cancer journey, click here.

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Learning to ask for help

Amy Brock is the author of Tata Wars, a blog about her journey with breast cancer

Amy Brock is the author of Tata Wars, a blog about her journey with breast cancer

We all have flaws. Opening with a sentence like that should warn you that I am about to admit one of mine. So, here is my admission—I can be stubborn. I am one of those spontaneous, “get it done” kind of girls. I am not necessarily bullheaded, but I am pretty independent. I like knowing that I am capable of taking care of myself. Cancer has a way of making you become less self-reliant. It has a way of making you ask for help.

“Can you help me?” That is a sentence that I really do not like to ask. When I look around at my friends they are all busy. They have jobs, families, children, school, activities, dinner, laundry and lives that are hectic and busy. My family lives out of town, and while they came as often as they could, the option to impose on people who expect you to impose was not something that was readily available.

For the first part of my treatment, I declined the help offered to me. I drove myself to my own treatments. I managed my own house. And because of my stubbornness, I would have continued to do that. Then my friends finally forced their help on me—as good friends will do.

A neighbor started picking my daughter up from school when she would pick up her child. On some days she would let her stay to play at her house, or take her to get ice cream. That simple act of not having to go back out after treatment allowed me to rest longer, avoid sitting in a carline trying not to be sick and have some time to make myself presentable to my children. I even began to ask for help in the mornings to take her to school so I could be on time for early treatment. That support, which to her seemed minor, to me, was invaluable.

Some of my friends started bringing me dinners. Their meals were more helpful than I could ever imagine. Why had I turned them down? I started realizing how wonderful it was not to cook. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and often sick. I felt horrible and food was nauseating. Having dinner for my husband and kids prepared and ready meant one less thing for me to do. That support, which to them seemed minor, to me, was a huge relief.

Helping Hands

When a friend realized I was going to treatment alone she was appalled. She would not hear of it, and started going with me. We laughed throughout treatment—sometimes too loud. She made sure to take me to lunch immediately after because it would be the only time I could eat before I got ill. During those months, our relationship changed, and I can truly say we have been through something that created a lifelong friendship. Her support turned out to be the most rewarding gift of help I have ever received, and I gained an amazing best friend. That support, which to her seemed minor, to me, was priceless.

Family and friends want to help. Let them! They want to support you even if it is in some small way. However, what seems like small help to them will feel like huge help to you. So again I admit that I still have flaws. I still can be stubborn and would prefer to get things done myself. I still do not like to ask for help, but I have definitely learned the importance of asking for help. Cancer has taught me a valuable lesson – that the support and help of those who care for you can create some of your greatest blessings.

Cancer survivor Amy Brock was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at 38. She has gone through chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, hormone therapy and other procedures since 2013. Amy began writing about her experiences as a way to help others on her blog, Tata Wars. Amy holds a BS in Organizational Management, BS in Information Technology and a MPH in Human Sexuality. Her MPH background has been a beneficial resource through her cancer experience.

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4 ways to be a friend to someone with cancer

twowomenYou talk to your best friend about everything—big things, little things and anything in between. But when they receive a cancer diagnosis, you may be at a loss for words. Cancer isn’t just impacting your friend’s life, but it affects yours as well. Cancer can create big changes in the dynamic of your friendship, and it’s common to feel unsure of how you should react.  You want to help and support your friend in any way possible, but you don’t want to overstep your bounds. Though no two people or cancer journeys are alike, there are ways you can support and empower your friend throughout the cancer experience that will not only ease their burden, but will help you as well.

  • Be available. Your friend may not always want you to visit, but you can still make yourself available for days when they are feeling well enough for visitors or would like some company. In the meantime, there are still things you can do to be present for your friend, like bringing meals, helping with childcare or running errands. You can also send little notes or gifts to your friend so they know you’re thinking of them, even when you can’t be there.
  • Ask questions. When your friend has cancer you may not know what to expect or what this will mean for the future. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend questions. They may not always have the answers, but will they most likely be grateful that you have an interest in their diagnosis and treatment. Try to routinely to ask your friend if they feel like talking about anything. They may not always feel up to talking, but your support will be appreciated.  Don’t be afraid to ask your friend what they specifically need. Sometimes friends and family are so willing to step in and help that they forget to ask what is truly needed by the patient in that moment.
  • Act normal. Just because cancer has changed the dynamic of the friendship doesn’t mean you can’t be yourself around your friend anymore. It’s ok to still talk about the same things you did before cancer, and your friend may appreciate the opportunity to talk about something other than cancer for a change! Your friend will most likely be relieved that your relationship is still as good as ever.
  • Create a support team. Your friend will be grateful for any kind of support from you during their cancer experience. But, you don’t have to do it alone. Get in touch with your friend’s family to see if they need anything, and reach out to any shared friends or to the community to make sure your friend has plenty of support and available resources.

If you or your friend ever have any questions or concerns, feel free to call the Cancer Support Helpline, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-8 p.m. ET. And, for more tips and resources on being a caregiver, check out Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Ten Tips for Caregivers.  

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What to listen to on your next trip

Untitled-1Looking for something to listen to on your next road trip? You can now hear audio narrations of our most popular blog posts and website articles on a new app called Umano.

Remember books on tape? This is like that—only better, and with CSC’s content alongside other interesting articles from Forbes, Huffington Post, Vanity Fair and more.

Plus, all of the content is narrated by real people. No robots here!

From Umano: Umano is a leading mobile app that uses the power of human narration to make written content easily accessible and more enjoyable from everywhere, especially in the car. Users can listen to Umano’s ever-growing catalog of articles from the world’s best publishers and bloggers narrated by professional voice actors. This app is perfect for users who like podcasts, listen to audio books or prefer to consume other audio content on the go.

Here’s how to get Umano:

  • Click on “Have a promo code?” and enter CSUPPORT to get connected to the Cancer Support Community’s channel right away.
  •   Listen to our articles and other great content while you’re on the road, on a run, or whenever!

Let us know what you think, and what kinds of CSC content you’d like to see more of. We’ll be adding new articles each month.

Special thanks to Umano for helping us spread the word of our important resources!

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How recreation can be therapeutic during your cancer journey


Participants enjoy attending light exercise classes at CSC Greater Philadelphia

Since 1984, National Therapeutic Recreation Week has been celebrated the second week of July. Its purpose is to raise awareness and educate communities about activities available to boost the wellness of people living with physical, mental or emotional challenges.

Therapeutic recreation is the use of a wide range of activities such as painting, yoga, walking or playing music to help boost your everyday lifestyle. Founded by the National Therapeutic Recreation Society, this week cultivates a safe and supportive environment for people living with certain challenges to find activities they enjoy. Therapeutic Recreation may help enhance not only your activity levels, but also your overall quality of life. When you’re living with cancer, taking good care of your body, mind and spirit is more imperative than ever and therapeutic recreation is a great place to start.

Each person has different preferences and capabilities that make their healing process unique. Fortunately there are vast amounts of art, music and other creative activities that contribute a huge role to heal the emotional and mental state of an individual. Many of our affiliates offer such activities such as photography, painting, Tai chi and exercise programs.

Stress relief is another benefit of therapeutic recreation. Excessive amounts of stress can be very harmful and this week highlights the importance for individuals to keep themselves from risk. A study conducted by the Cancer Support Community’s Research and Training Institute has found that over half of people living with cancer have moderate to serious concerns about physical activity. Rather than eliminating physical activity, there are many programs that take into consideration your activity levels during and after treatment.

You can learn more about how to stay physically active by listening to our Frankly Speaking About Cancer radio show airing in early August with Carol Michaels, a fitness expert who specializes in exercises for cancer survivors.

How are you going to celebrate National Therapeutic Recreation Week? As the summer continues, be on the lookout for activities that will help boost your wellness. Talk to your health care team and ask for resources to get you started. Pour yourself into art or go on nature walks in the park and start to find your personal healing process and ways to express yourself in the midst of your cancer journey.

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