When a Child is Diagnosed with Cancer: How Life Changes
Life does not prepare parents for a diagnosis of cancer in children. Emotionally, the leap from being a parent of a healthy child to having a child with cancer may simply seem unfathomable. The diagnosis may come as a complete shock or it actually may be somewhat of a relief, depending on how difficult the disease was to diagnose and the child’s symptoms prior to diagnosis. Initially the whole family may feel devastated, as if the worst thing that could have happened, has happened. After learning the diagnosis, some parents may feel they are no longer in control of their lives. A new rhythm will emerge in the family, which will take time to establish.
Family life can change quickly after a child is diagnosed with cancer. There is little time for parents to sit back and think about how they will cope, as the child may need to begin medical treatment immediately. But it is not uncommon for parents to wonder "Why is this happening?" to their family.
Some parents tend to blame themselves for their child’s cancer. It is not uncommon for a parent to feel that there was something he or she did or didn't do that caused the child’s illness. Mothers may worry that they did something wrong during their pregnancy that resulted in the disease. It is important to understand that parents are not responsible for their child’s cancer.
Beyond dealing with their own questions, parents must find age-appropriate ways to discuss the diagnosis and treatment with their child. Many other people in the parent and child’s support network will also need and want to know about the diagnosis and treatment plan. Communicating this information can be very taxing. It may ease the burden to rely upon close friends and family members to share this information with others.
Parents may feel they are beginning to regain some control after the diagnosis, as a treatment plan is developed. Some suggestions:
- Closely review the medical "protocol" or treatment plan, asking questions until the child’s illness and required treatment are understood.
- Develop relationships with members of the treatment team who are there to care for the child as well as to educate and support the family.
- It's a good idea for parents to identify the people in their own support system who can help them to get through the initial phase of the illness.
- Parents are encouraged to recognize that their reactions, emotions and concerns are similar to those of others who have had the same experience, and try to accept them. These responses may include anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and confusion.
- Assistance is available from people who can help parents understand the child's illness and the emotional response to it. Such people include social workers, psychologists, nurses, child life specialists, and clergy.
- Help with practical and financial resources is available from the social workers, parent advocates, account managers (billing department at the hospital) or insurance company, and patient representatives. These people can also assist with accessing information from the Internet regarding financial resources and educational materials.
Reprinted with the permission of CureSearch. © 2005 CureSearch
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