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Facts 4 Teens

Life can be intense! As a teenager, you’ve got friends, school, relationships, sports and lots more to keep up with.

Cancer in your family is the last thing you need in your life right now. But, it happened. So we’ve created Facts 4 Teens to help you cope with the changes in your life the best you can.


photo of anger: why me? photo of creativity: expressing yourself

photo of friends: at first they didn't know what to say photo of take care: I feel better when I go for walks

Here, you’ll find lots of information about cancer and its treatments, as well as information about taking care of yourself. 

You’ll also find artwork and stories from other teens that have gone through this as well.

Your questions
Here are some questions you might have if you find out someone in your family has cancer. 

No, not usually. Some kinds of cancers are seen more often in some families. This might be related to similar factors such as smoking, diet, or environment. A few cancers (5-10%) are related to a gene mutation (change in the cell's growth instructions) that can be passed down in a family. Even if the mutation is passed down to someone in the family, not everyone who inherits a gene mutation will develop cancer. Inherited cancer is rare. Making good health choices can reduce the chances of anyone getting cancer, such as:

  • Eat healthy foods to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Protect yourself from too much sun
  • Don't start smoking - be tobacco free
  • Enjoy exercise and hobbies
  • Take quiet time to relax
  • Have fun! Laughter is healthy too! 

Check out for more information, quizzes, and tips to enjoy healthy living (try the "Cancer Smarts" quiz!).


Many cancers can be treated so that the person gets well again. Many cancers respond to treatment, and many, many people will survive. Some cancers are cured quickly and easily by treatment, others are not. Some cancers can be greatly slowed down. Sometimes treatment does not work, and people do die. Sometimes, the first round of treatment does not work well enough, and the cancer comes back. The doctors may then need to give different treatment.


In most cases, no one knows why cancer happens to anybody. But we do know that cancer is not something that you can catch from someone else. And you cannot cause cancer in someone else. Cancer is caused by changes inside the cell as a result of a number of factors.


There are many different types of treatment, but chances are your family member will experience some "side effects" including ones that are visible (like hair loss or weight change) and other effects (like feeling tired or cranky). The specific side effects depend on the kind of treatment. Your family member's cancer care team can help with ideas to prevent or reduce side effects. When treatment ends, the side effects usually go away. You may see your family member feeling sad or scared - that is a normal and healthy response to adjusting to the diagnosis. It is ok to feel and show difficult feelings. And, it is ok to get extra support to help with the changes that serious illness can bring to family life. Laughter and hugs can help a lot to release stress and provide comfort.

The chance for cure depends on the type and extent of the cancer when it is first discovered (diagnosed). If one kind of treatment isn't working, the doctors will recommend a different treatment. For many people, treatment can result in long term control of the cancer. There is always hope for new cancer treatments. There are also many ways that the health care team can help your family member to feel better during and after cancer treatment. It can seem like a long time before your family member feels better. Even though it is hard, it helps when everyone in the family has patience .

Stuff that helps

Changes happen. During these crazy times, it is important to take care of yourself. Here are some areas where you can take better care of your self: 

  • Friends: Relationships will likely change with some of your friends during this time.   
  • Family: Your family will likely function differently during this time as well.
  • School: Going to school may seem like a chore these days, unless you're glad for the escape that it provides from life at home.  
  • Healthy living: There are lots of things that you can do to be healthy and help make yourself feel better.
  • Resources: There are lots of other places that you can find support!

Relationships will likely change with some of your friends. Some of them might not know what to say to you so they might distance themselves. Others might treat you a little differently than before. 

It can be very mixed with friends. Some of them just know what to say, some just bumble, and some just seem mean sometimes. They probably mean well, but just don’t quite know the words to say. 

It is your right to decide who to tell your story to. During this time, you’ll need friends who you feel can be there for you in the way you need. Choose wisely for yourself. 

Hopefully, you have some good friends that will be open to talking with you about what is going on in your family and will treat you the same as before—good friends make such a difference. 

Dan's words

In terms of social life, maybe you find that going to parties is a good way of coping. Personally, I found it mentally exhausting to try to be social despite the way I was feeling. My friends were very understanding--however, they had their limits. It can be hard to explain to a friend why you don’t feel like doing the same activities as you usually do, or why you find it difficult to laugh at the same jokes. 

You should know, though, that they are trying their best to help. Be patient with them and explain to them how you’re feeling; they’ll still be around when you’re feeling like your regular self again. 

If you have friends who you trust, then you should by all means talk with them. They can be an invaluable resource. I had a group of friends that stuck with me through those years, and who I’m still friends with today.

Have you noticed many changes in your family the last while? Some of the relationships in your family might feel different when some members are spending more time taking care of the person who has cancer and less time doing the things they normally do. You and your family members might seem different in some ways, and this can be confusing. It would probably be helpful to talk about this with them, or  with another person you can trust. 

Who is in your family? There are a lot of different kinds of families, and sometimes people that we aren’t related to by blood seem more like family. 

List the people in your family, and those who can be there for you. Pets can count as family members too! 


Dan's words

Personally, I regret hiding my feelings from my mom and brother as much as I did. I wanted to appear strong for them, but trying to pretend that I was happy only created tension between us. I wish that I had done my part to create an atmosphere of honesty, in which we could have coped with the problem together. 

Don’t try too hard to be ‘strong for your family’. The burden of comforting and supporting your family and dealing with your own issues is too much to bear. Recognize that you need and deserve help dealing with this problem. Even if your family member is the one who is sick, that doesn’t diminish how much pain you feel from the ordeal.


Getting Through: a guide for middle-school and high-school students affected by cancer in the family

What has school been like for you since your family member was diagnosed with cancer? Some people find that they don’t like being at school because they’re away from their family member. Others find that they enjoy going to school because it is a place that still feels normal and it is a chance to get away from the house. 

It is important to know that your experience with school right now is not right or wrong, it is just your best way of dealing with things. 

One thing that is fairly consistent with teens with a similar situation to yours is that their grades may drop a bit. This might be because you are missing school more often, or you just can’t concentrate or feel like you don’t care. Learning about history or physics or algebra may seem useless to you if there are more important things going on at home. 

Many teens find it helpful to let their teachers and classmates know what is going on at home. Your teachers will probably be very understanding of your situation if you let them know, and will help you make school fit your life better. School counselors are really great supports when you need someone to talk to as well. 

Who can you trust at school? List those people. 

Dan's words

As understanding as teachers and peers can be, you might find that their understanding has its limits. If you’re teachers are like mine were, then they’ll give you many breaks when it comes to homework, and assignments. 

However, eventually they’ll expect you to perform to your regular standard once again (on this point, every teacher is different), and maybe you won’t be ready. Just remember that only you know when you’re ready, and what you’re capable of doing in this situation. If you feel that a teacher is being unfair, don’t hesitate to talk to them or your counselors; and if your grades slip a little, know that that’s okay too.

Perhaps you feel like your life is totally out of balance now that someone in your family has cancer.  Maybe you’re juggling time between the hospital, school and home, or always eating on the run. 

Here are some tips for taking care of yourself during this crazy time:

  1. Talk to someone you trust.
  2. Spend time with your friends and your pets.
  3. Eat your fruits and veggies (and other healthy food...with the occasional treat like ice cream!)
  4. Get some fresh air. Go for a walk or a run, shoot some hoops, or just spend some time outside in nature.
  5. Take it easy on your self right now. It is okay if your grades drop a bit, or if you aren’t able to do everything that you did before cancer came to your family.
  6. Breathe deeply. This works especially well if you are feeling anxious. Just focus on taking one long and deep breath at a time (like in yoga, which can be very helpful too!)
  7. Play music. Do art. Journal. Sing.
  8. Do things that you like to do.
  9. Take a nap.
  10. Check out Hi 5 Living for more information on taking good care of yourself, and also for information on cancer prevention.



Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which you become more aware of the present moment, and your feelings.  Practising mindfulness can be a very good way to relieve stress.

For more information about mindfulness, visit the Mindful website.


Sometimes, when we can’t quite find the support we need from our friends and families, we can lean on professionals, books, websites, and other tools for support. 

Though you may feel alone sometimes, there are resources available for you. You may want to talk to the counsellor at your school, or find another counsellor that you can talk to.  You may also be able to find some books to read in your local library.

Online resources

The National Cancer Institute created this guide for teens that you can download.


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