Being the grandparent of a young person diagnosed with cancer comes with its own set of issues and complications. Many grandparents speak of the "double impact" they feel. Not only are they worried for their grandchild, but they are also dealing with the toll the cancer journey takes on their own child.
getting information about cancer
While information can help to provide a sense of control, many grandparents say they don’t feel they know enough, are out of their depth, or simply don’t understand the terminology being used. They often don’t want to bother parents or add any pressure by asking too many questions.
If you’re in this situation, it can help to speak with the hospital social worker or member of the medical team. You may want to check with your grandchild (depending on their age) and their parents to make sure they’re comfortable for you to talk to the medical team.
You can also contact the Redkite’s support team. The rest of the family doesn’t have to know if you’d rather keep it private. Call us on 1800 REDKITE (1800 733 548) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We're here for you throughout the cancer journey, and can also put you in touch with other grandparents with similar experiences through one of our support groups.
To get more information, you might want to visit some of the sites listed on our resources page or read our e-book A guide for grandparents of children with cancer, created in partnership with the Kids Cancer Centre.
You can order copies of this book by contacting us at 1800 REDKITE (1800 733 548) or email@example.com.
Grandparents can play a key role during a young person’s cancer journey. You have many skills and abilities, including the benefit of life experience. While we recognise that there can be tensions or conflicts between generations in some families, grandparents can often help to maintain stability and provide a sense of normalcy.
No matter how close you are with other family members, there are ways you can support both your child and your grandchild.
ways to support your grandchild
ways to support the rest of the family
Look after yourself too. Don't push yourself too far, to make sure you can keep helping for the long haul. It’s important to be realistic about how much you can do.
Living away from your child and grandchild can also limit how much you can assist. Remember that just keeping in touch can be a great help. You can call, text or even video chat (Skype) with the family. Just being that person they can call at any time and share their concerns or thoughts with is a very important role.
Often the siblings of a cancer patient feel forgotten or overlooked as the family focuses on the sick child. Grandparents can play an incredibly important role in not just helping to physically look after them, but also in making up for some of the attention their parents can’t give them right now. Find out more about supporting siblings.
am I in the way?
Many grandparents worry about overstepping boundaries. Some report feeling unsure when it's the right time to offer advice or help. This uncertainty can result in them sitting back and waiting to be asked, rather than offering support as they would like to.
You may also find yourself in the firing line for occasional outbursts from your own child as they struggle to cope with their own emotions. Try not to take this personally. It can be a fine line to walk, but offering help is still usually the best approach.
Learning to recognise cues and checking in with the social worker about what the family might need can be useful. The social worker won't break the confidentially of their professional relationship with your grandchild or their parents, but they'll still be able to talk with you about the types of things that are usually helpful.
Making specific offers of help rather than general ones and agreeing on the best way to keep in touch can also make things easier. With so much going on, phone calls can sometimes can add to the pressure. Using text messages or email to communicate with your grandchild and their parents can make communication easier.
your own feelings
Many grandparents see their own feelings as less important than other people’s. They talk about their role as being to stay strong for the family.
Many also worry about the strength of the emotions they’re feeling. It’s very common for grandparents to express that they wish they could swap places with their grandchild. Often they talk about feeling guilty about having lived a long life and some question their spirituality in the face of what seems so unfair.
All of these are natural and normal responses. It’s important to understand that these feelings are common responses to the cancer journey. Your feelings are important and legitimate. By finding ways to express and deal with them, you’ll be in a better position to help others.
looking after yourself
Parents can connect with some great support services through the healthcare system, but often these aren’t extended to grandparents. You might feel you’re missing out on the sense of community that happens in hospitals and the professional support offered there. If you’re supporting your child, you may be taking on their grief and emotions too, so it's even more important to find ways to look after yourself.
Redkite is here for the whole family, and if you'd like support, please don't hesitate to contact our team on 1800 REDKITE (1800 733 548) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make sure you find ways to relax and take care of yourself. This could be as simple as keeping up with friends, eating well, exercising or just taking time out to rest. You'll be showing the way to other family members if you can do this.
If you have a partner, part of your self-care may also include looking after your relationship. Cancer can "get in the middle" of people, especially those who have different coping styles. It can help to acknowledge that not every person deals with emotions the same way, particularly ones as confronting as those that cancer brings.
Experts often talk about the different way men and women cope, with all those clichés about women talking, and men disappearing to their shed. Really trying to hear and understand what the other person is saying will always help.
how we can support you
Redkite understands how helpful it can be to know you’re not alone in this situation. We run free support groups for people whose grandchildren have cancer. This is an opportunity to connect with others who’ve had similar experiences, share and learn from each other. For more information about the next group call 1800 REDKITE (1800 733 548) or email email@example.com.
If you prefer individual support, our professional support team has years of experience talking with grandparents dealing with a grandchild’s cancer by phone, email and in person.
Last updated September 2015.