I’m at university and living away from a family member with cancer

Hi everyone,

My stepdad has been diagnosed with incurable lung cancer. I have always been close to my stepdad but I have been living away for the past year for University and I am currently living away too.

Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with it and feelings when you’re not with them? I’m worried I may not be able to spend enough time with him.


  • Hi TylerM

    welcome to the online community. So sorry to hear about your stepdad's diagnosis. Living away must make it all seem tougher.

    My situation is different. it's mu husband who has a terminal diagnosis (brain tumour)  but our daughter is in a similar situation to you. She moved out a few weeks before her dad's diagnosis. She's only an hour away from us. (You don't say how far away from home you are)

    Things she's tried to help her cope and still spend time with her dad are keeping in regular phone contact. They try to do things together when she's home, even if its just going for a drive to get ice cream. They've also had a couple of "adventures" together. Recently they spent a few days in London having dome father/daughter time. I think she's trying to make some fun memories to hold onto. 

    It doesn't need to be anything big. Sometimes simple things like watching the same netflix series so they can talk about it together helps. Perhaps you could try something similar.

    I'm sure others on here will offer other helpful suggestions.

    As for the feelings and emotions, there's no right or wrong way to feel. You're going through a journey too here so I hope you have friends at uni or a student adviser or lecturer that you can talk to. Having someone to just listen can be a huge help.

    Macmillan Support Services also offer lots of information, support, financial guidance or just someone to listen. It’s free to call 0808 808 0000. Most services are available 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week. Have a look by Clicking here to see what is available and we also have our Ask an Expert section that could help explain anything that you're unsure of regarding your stepdad's health, but do allow two to three working days for replies from our expert team.

    Hang in there. Stay strong.

    love n hugs

    Wee Me  xx

    Macmillan Support Line - 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week between 8am-8pm

  • Hi Wee Me, 

    Thanks for your comments and advice, I live roughly 40 minutes / 1 hour away depending how I travel but its still a fair distance when something is happening. I have tried starting to get more things in common with him, but he's always been more of a Dad to me rather than a stepdad. 

    I have people I can talk to, however, the course is stressful as it is but hopefully all should be okay Pray

    Hang in there too

  • Hi TylerM, its nice to meet in sorry it’s under these circumstances. 
    I am actually in the exact same position as you. My mum has been diagnosed again after being in remission for a few years. I live about 2 hours away from home and I completely understand how hard it is. 

    sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not at home spending time with my mum but I know my degree is important and that my mum really wants me to do well. I’m using that as motivation because I want to make her proud. 

    i try and FaceTime my mum three times a week if I can and it helps me feel better than I’ve spoken to her. I also try and create a life for myself away from the cancer which really helps me such as being with friends or my boyfriend who helps me relax and not think about my mums cancer even for just a few hours. 

    try not to feel guilty about not spending enough time as you say, because I am sure your step dad will want you to be at uni enjoying yourself as much as you can and any time you do spend will be cherished by him. Maybe you could go home every 2 weeks on the weekend if that suits you, I think that’s what I’m going to try and do. 

    I don’t have much advice I’m afraid as I’m still trying to navigate this awful path myself while studying but I hope nothing but the best for your step dad and if you need to talk about anything then I’ll be happy to help as I understand how you feel being away at university. 

    take care of yourself and keep on talking about it 


  • Hi, 

    Im in a similar situation with my mum. Just moved away to uni. It's hard but I know they would want for us to live our lives and carry on as normal as possible. What im trying to do is be fullyy present in each situation - when im with my mum im fully with her and i enjoy it and when im away to at uni i try to immerse myself in that.

  • Hello Tyler,

    Welcome to the community - I am another newbie like yourself! I am sorry to hear what you are going through, particularly as it has come during university where you are away from home. I graduated in 2020, so feel like we're not so far apart in terms of age and experience.

    Whilst my mum has been diagnosed with cancer recently, she and my dad have had other health challenges which I had to face whilst away studying. As an only child this felt overwhelming and like yourself I experienced a lot of anxiety. I wanted to be at home with them, and to feel in control of the circumstances. But my parents didn't want me to give up my studies and aspirations. This left me wondering what the best way forward was, as you are now. 

    First of all, it might be an idea to make your main course tutors and leaders aware of your circumstances. This might feel overwhelming, but I can guarantee they will be supportive once they know. Often it is easier to write an email than to tell them in person, if that is what you would prefer. If they are aware, you should be able to obtain additional support, such as compassionate leave in an emergency, and deadline extensions when things feel too much and you need some additional time to focus. 

    I would also make your university wellbeing team aware of the situation too, as they could assign someone for you to talk to about your needs and concerns at any point - a 'go to' person who can act on your behalf and support you when things may get tough. 

    Universities are there to support you, and should do this wherever possible, as you have made a significant financial  investment in their services. Do not be afraid to speak up and say what you need.

    On top of this, I found regular phone / Zoom calls home helped to ease that distance. Does your step-dad use Zoom / video call often? It might be an idea to create a routine where you have a conversation each week. You could even watch films and TV series together - I recommend the Teleparty plug-in if you want to watch something together simultaneously on Netflix, for example.

    I hope this helps. Sending lots of love to you at this difficult time. Take it steady. X