A cancer diagnosis is frightening and upsetting at any age but when children are diagnosed with cancer it is overwhelming and heartbreaking. Dealing with cancer at any age is not easy but when a child is diagnosed with cancer, parents must deal with their own emotions and fears as well as help their child through the process. A child’s cancer diagnosis turns family life upside down and any guidance from doctors and patients who have experienced childhood cancer can be helpful for a parent that has just been thrust into this foreign, devastating world.
Anger, fear, sadness – some of the most common emotions that a parent experiences immediately upon learning of their child’s cancer diagnosis. The questions are quickly on the heels of initial emotions – “Why my child?” “How will my family get through this?” “How will I explain this to my child?” A lot of emotions and questions are universal among parents of children who have been diagnosed with cancer but some things will also be affected by the child’s specific diagnosis including type of cancer, stage and prognosis. All parents will grieve after their child’s cancer diagnosis, even if prognosis is good because a cancer diagnosis still feels like a death. The common stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression or sadness, and acceptance. Understanding that these stages are natural, normal and important will help you deal with your child’s cancer diagnosis.
In addition to dealing with the various emotions that come along with your child’s cancer diagnosis, many find that the best thing to do when coping is to gather as much information as possible. While it may seem that pretending like the diagnosis has not happened, or being in denial for a while, may help in coping, in fact, studies have shown that parent’s anxiety and depression is actually decreased when they face the diagnosis head on. Arm yourself with information about the disease, the specific diagnosis, treatment options, ways to help your child adjust and the resources that are available to you. The internet tends to be filled with a lot of conflicting information so make sure the information you are getting is accurate. Additionally, do not forget to speak to your insurance company and learn about your specific health insurance benefits so that there are no surprises along the way.
Information is important and will help reduce feelings of being overwhelmed or uninformed. But, every parent will need support while dealing with their child’s cancer diagnosis. This may come from a great group of friends or close family members but what you may learn is that while they will offer support and help along the way, they may not be able to truly relate to what you are going through. For this reason, many parents find it helpful to join a support group with other parents of children with cancer. It’s a group nobody wants to be in but that can offer unparallel support and guidance because they have been there or are going through it at the same time.
Lastly, do not forget to accept help! Many people will offer help and its important that you take them up on it. Your time and energy will be drained in caring for your child so less important things – running errands, grocery shopping, picking up school supplies, getting the oil changed – are things that you should delegate to a willing helper. It can feel strange and difficult to let go of control in these areas or make you feel guilty to accept help but now is the time to focus on what is important and give yourself a break because you are doing your best. These are just a few ways parents of children that have been diagnosed with cancer cope so that they can continue to support their child and try to maintain a healthy family life.