A cancer diagnosis can be the beginning of a new, difficult journey. Those with cancer must deal with a wide range of new issues, from treatment to the effects the diagnosis has on their children. An often overlooked group that is greatly affected by cancer is the children of individuals with cancer. Children facing a parent’s diagnosis can often feel out of place, as it may be difficult for them to relate to other children who are not going through the same issues at home. More than 3 million children currently have a parent diagnosed with cancer, and it is important to address their specific emotional needs.
For individuals facing a cancer diagnosis, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with their children. Although these conversations will differ based on the ages of the children, it can be helpful for parents to be clear with the basic facts of their diagnosis. Although the diagnosis may be difficult to accept, providing this information to children will allow them to not think the worst about the situation and calm some worries they may have after originally hearing about the diagnosis. Some important facts to include in this conversation are the type of cancer, where the cancer is in the body, what treatment with entail, and how treatment will change both the parent’s life and the child’s life. It can also be helpful to tell your children about times you know you will be in the hospital, as well as making it clear that there will always be someone to care for them even if you yourself are unable to due to a hospital stay.
During treatment, it can be helpful to maintain the same rules and boundaries in the household as prior to the diagnosis. Some children may grow distant because they do not want to burden their parents with their emotional concerns when they know that they are already dealing with a lot. Others may act out to express their anger or gain attention from others. Keeping up with the same rules can help maintain the routines that were in place previous to the diagnosis and indicate to the children that they still live in a safe environment where they can feel comfortable to appropriately express their concerns.
It can also be helpful to provide a time each day for your children to ask any questions that are on their mind. This could be built into an existing routine, such as having this time prior to tucking them in for bed. Many children have heard myths about cancer that may have them fearing the worst. This time can help them relieve their worry and have any confusing aspects of treatment explained to them again.
Parenting with cancer can be intimidating and overwhelming. It can be difficult to focus on your children while simultaneously dealing with the treatment process and giving attention to your own wellbeing. However, it is also important to remember that it is a process. There will be ups and downs in the journey, but it takes an immense amount of strength to care for your children while also dealing with your own treatment. For support regarding parenting with cancer, as well as other issues related to a cancer diagnosis, call the Cancer Support Helpline, Monday–Friday 9 a.m.–8 p.m. ET at 888-793-9355.