Advocating and problem-solving for those facing cancer

As a supporter of someone with cancer, you may not realise how involved you can be, and how to advocate on behalf of the person facing cancer, if you choose to.

What does advocating mean?

Advocating can mean a number of different things:

  • Making sure your voice or opinion is heard
  • Influencing or causing something to change
  • Asking for more information on things like side effects
  • Asking for a second opinion
  • Making sure a young person explores all their fertility options
  • Finding ways to help a young person keep studying

One of the most important things you can do is help a young person advocate for themselves, depending on their age and maturity.

Being a patient can be disempowering for anyone. For young people, this can be made worse if they are left out of discussions, talked about, not listened to, or not given the chance to be involved in their care.

It can sometimes be easy to assume that a young person isn’t interested or capable of having a say in their treatment. Sometimes adults just want to protect young people from the more difficult decisions. But asking a young person if they want to be involved in making decisions or whether they need more information about a certain thing is an important part of helping them to feel more in control.

What if I’m not the parent?

While parents will tend to take a lead role as advocates for their children, partners, carers, siblings and grandparents can also act as advocates.

Start by talking to the young person and the person who is their main support, to see how you could help. Advocating could be as simple as encouraging and supporting their choices, or might involve things like seeking more information on their behalf or even acting as the contact point with medical staff or family members.

When acting as an advocate, it’s a good idea to check in with people occasionally to make sure your actions are still useful, and to find out if they need any other support.

Finding information about cancer

An important skill for an advocate is to make sure you have the right information, which is not always as simple as going online. The internet can be a good resource, but it’s important to be careful about which sources you trust.

Start with your medical team – they will be an important source of information and support, and will also be able to recommend other information sources like the Cancer Council, which has online resources and a helpline you can call to ask questions. We’ve also listed other sources of information on our resources page.


Advocating works best when you listen and understand what others are trying to say. This can be challenging, especially if you don’t agree or want to accept their opinion. But by listening, you’ll learn more about their perspective and may even find a new way to look at an issue. Building a mutual understanding this way can lead to a stronger relationship, with a shared goal about your child’s health.

Asking questions

The ability and willingness to ask questions is a great skill in supporting a cancer patient. While doctors or nurses may seem busy, you have the right to ask them to answer any questions you have.

It’s a good idea to ask your treating team to make a time to talk to you – your hospital social worker can help you with this. Write a list of questions before you meet with them, and remember that if you think of more afterwards, you can always go back and ask.

Learning the language

Cancer seems to come with a whole different language. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to explain what they just said in words or phrases that you can understand. Often medical staff are so used to talking about cancer, they don’t even realise that what they’re saying might not make sense to someone else.

Knowing your rights

Parents or legal guardians of children under 18 have rights within the healthcare system. Two important rights to remember are:

  • You have the right to ask for information and the right to make decisions about your child’s treatment
  • You have the right to ask to talk to another doctor or get a second opinion

Many hospitals have information resources about health rights and responsibilities. Once your child is over the age of 16, their right to be involved in and make decisions about their health increases.

It’s clearer when your child is aged 18 or over. Once over 18, every decision about treatment is legally up to the young person.

This is not to say that parents can’t be involved. If there are conflicts or tensions about decision making, talking with a social worker or a member of the Redkite support team can be helpful.

If you’re the partner of a diagnosed person, the extent of your rights will again depend your age, the age of the diagnosed person and on the nature of your relationship. Ask your hospital or Redkite social worker for more information about ways to manage this.

Asking for help

Asking for help is a great skill to have. Some people worry it means they aren’t coping, but what it really means is that you’re actively trying to find solutions to problems.

Cancer Advisor has a range of resources on advocating for your rights, but we’re always looking for more content. Leave a comment below, share your own story or recommend a resource.

Go to page Leave comment
  • Statistics and information about childhood cancers

    Researchers can’t tackle childhood cancer without a set of current, accurate, nationally consistent data – and that’s exactly what the Australian Children’s Cancer Registry provides. The ACCR is managed by Cancer Council Queensland with the assistance of all state and territory cancer registries and all treating paediatric oncology hospitals. It comprises more than 20,000 cases of childhood cancer diagnosed in Australia since 1983. While the statistics and information developed by the ACCR are of great benefit to clinicians and other researchers, they’re also freely available to anyone with an interest or involvement in childhood cancers including families of paediatric cancer patients. […]

  • Maddy Ritchie: I Don’t Know How She Does It

    Being 17 is complicated enough. Being told you have a rare pelvic tumour can really turn your world upside down. Meet Maddy: she’s now in her early 20s, two years cancer-free and a passionate volunteer with cancer charities. She speaks candidly about treatment, fertility, spirituality and how she got through her experience. From MamaMia’s ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ podcast series.

  • For young adults – cancer and your family

    If you’re a young person diagnosed with cancer you probably have lots of questions about how it will affect your family. While every family is different and has its own strengths and quirks, it may be helpful to consider some common questions. Click on a section below to see some tips and hints, as well as recommendations for further reading. Cancer Advisor has a range of resources for young people facing cancer, but we’re always looking for more content. Leave a comment below, share your own story or recommend a resource.

  • Re-Mission 2 – a video game for kids with cancer

    Re-Mission 2 games is an online video game created by Hopelab. The game aims to give kids and young adults with cancer a sense of power and control. The website say the games “help kids and young adults with cancer take on the fight of their lives. Based on scientific research, the games provide cancer support by giving players a sense of power and control and encouraging treatment adherence.” All six Re-Mission 2 games can be played online for free. The Re-Mission 2: Nanobot’s Revenge mobile app is available for download on iOS. “In 2014, Re-Mission 2: Nanobot’s Revenge, our cancer-fighting mobile app for iOS […]

  • Explainer: What is nanomedicine and how can it improve childhood cancer treatment?

    The Conversation has published an article about how Australian researchers are looking at how they can use nanomedicine to improve the side effects of cancer treatment for children. What is nanomedicine?  Nano means tiny – a nanometre is one-billionth of a metre! – and nanomedicine is the use of nanoparticles in medicine. This article talks about using nanoparticles to transport drugs to places they wouldn’t be able to go on their own. How does that help with side effects?  Nanoparticles can be designed to: better target cancer cells, which means less damage to healthy cells break down into harmless byproducts transport […]

  • Advice on problems paying your mortgage

    The Australian Government website, Money Smart, offers advice to help you manage your mortgage if you’re having problems with your repayments. The website provides the steps a lender can take if you fall behind on your repayments, and the details of where you can get help. It covers how to contact your lender; get help with your repayments; the steps a lender can take if you are behind on mortgage repayments; and traps to avoid slipping further into debt.” Cancer Advisor has a range of resources on finances and cancer, but we are always looking for more content. Register now to contribute content, […]


Comments will appear below.

What do you think about this topic?