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#BloodCancerAwareness Q&A: "My ex has cancer. Why does our son act like it's my fault?"

Over the years, I've received thousands of emails about Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir about my experience with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A cancer diagnosis brings a firestorm of questions, and as a survivor, I can sympathize, but I'm not an expert; many times I just don't have the answers. So this year during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I've asked Ashley Rodgers (Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling), to respond to some FAQs about the emotional and psychological aspects of the cancer journey. 

Q: My teenage son is great with his dad (my ex-husband) who is going through chemo and radiation, but to me he is belligerent, disrespectful and uncooperative. Why is he acting like my ex's cancer is my fault?

Ashley says: I understand how you may feel frustrated and hurt by your son’s actions and attitude towards you right now. It is difficult for everyone to cope with a sick parent, especially when you are still a child. Ideally, your parents take care of you when you're young and support you throughout your lifetime, and when illness interrupts that path it can be terrifying.

Although it is hard not to take his behavior personally, but try to put yourself in his shoes and see things from his perspective. Perhaps his acting out is because he does not know what to expect from his father’s illness and treatment. An excellent way to help your son and alleviate the tension between the two of you is to bring him into the loop of what is going on with his father’s medical situation. Even if you and your ex-husband don’t talk frequently, it is important as parents to communicate on this subject for your son’s sake.

Comfort comes with understanding. Your son’s behavior will likely change if he is aware of what to expect. Sit down and talk with him about each of these areas related to his father’s health:

  • What is the diagnosis?
  • How they are going to treat it?
  • What does that treatment do to the patient?
  • What are the possible future outcomes as a result?

Prepare him for the good, the bad and the "wait and see."

Communication is everything. Teenagers are known for being stubborn, defiant and disrespectful. But if you counter that with compassion, patience and a readiness to answer questions, I am sure you will see a difference in your relationship with your son.

Here are some helpful tips on how to deal with a sick parent from a kid whose own father was sick.

We welcome your questions and comments.

*No part of this blog or the book Bald in the Land of Big Hair should be misconstrued as or substituted for medical advice.


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