DR. WALLACE: I am 19 years old and recently started my sophomore year of college. Last week, my mom told me that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I am absolutely devastated and do not know what to do. Since I found out the news, I have been unable to sleep or focus on any of my classwork.

I go to school out of state from where I grew up, and nothing seems to matter to me right now except going home so that I can help my beloved mother.

I immediately decided that I would take a semester off from school and come home when she told me she had cancer, but she begged me to stay at my university. My mom said that the best thing I can do for her is continue to enjoy my time in college and take care of my own responsibilities, but I do not know how I can possibly do that when I am so worried about her and devastated that she is sick. All I want to do is help my mother and make sure that she gets better as quickly as possible. — Worried college sophomore, via email

WORRIED COLLEGE SOPHOMORE: I am so sorry to hear about your mother’s diagnosis. Finding out that someone we love dearly has a very serious illness is one of the worst possible scenarios life can throw at us.

I can only imagine how desperately you must wish to be by your mother’s side during this hard time, but she is correct in that you returning home will not be of any specific medical help to her right now. While rushing home would ease your current state of panic, take a moment to consider how much more distress it would add to your mother’s already complicated situation. On top of bearing the burden of her recent diagnosis, she would also have to worry about you taking time away from school on her behalf.

A difficult truth that I propose to you is that sometimes the best way to help someone in crisis is by doing what you may consider to feel like “nothing.” There is nothing you can do to change your mother’s prognosis and make her predicament disappear. What you can do, however, is control what you can control, almost all of which is likely to be directly related to you and your life. Find a counselor or therapist in your area who can walk alongside you during this troubling time and who will help you to hold yourself accountable for taking care of yourself during this time of your family’s crisis. Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the areas of school, sleep and health, and dedicate your drive toward this goal to your mother. This will be one of the best gifts you could provide her at this time.

This is not to say that there are not things you can do for your mom while you are away at school. I am sure that sending her letters and care packages, checking in with her periodically via social media and texts, and having heartfelt conversations with her over the phone are ways in which you can provide her a great deal of emotional support. In truth, however, it is likely that nothing could possibly be more helpful for your mother right now than you keeping your own life intact.

Focus on assisting yourself through this process, and by doing so, you will be assisting her tremendously as well. Our staff, our readers and I wish your dear mother the best possible medical outcome and a return to good health as soon as possible.

OK TO MONITOR SON’S PHONE?DR. WALLACE: Do you feel it is acceptable for a parent to put a monitoring app on a 15-year-old son’s phone? My husband feels we would be “spying” on our son, but I feel this would be a prudent way to both monitor his communications and to keep him safe from predators. — Concerned parent, via email

CONCERNED PARENT: If you have a reason for not trusting your son then yes, it could be necessary. But if you ultimately decide to do this, definitely let your son know you’re doing it.

As his parent, I’m assuming you paid for your child’s phone and are also paying his ongoing monthly phone bill, so yes is the short answer to your question. Your son, upon turning 18 and when he can subsequently afford his own phone and pay his own bill, can then expect full privacy as an adult in his own right. Until that time, you do have the right to monitor his activity if you choose to do so.

Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at rwallace@thegreatestgift.com. To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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