At the Cancer Support Community, we recognize that a person living with cancer isn’t the only one affected by diagnosis and treatment. Cancer can also impact other members of the family, including children, as one-third of people living with cancer are diagnosed at an age when they may be caring for children.
Children are a group with unique needs when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. During a parent’s treatment, children may be confused or concerned by changes in their parent’s appearance or activity. Parents might also struggle in determining when and how to talk to their children about a cancer diagnosis.
Each summer since 2000, student leaders at Camp Kesem provide a week long experience for children affected by cancer to connect with peers with similar experiences. Camp Kesem aims to meet the needs of this population by creating a community that is “empowering, comforting, encouraging and inspirational.” This past summer, it hosted a record 7,300 campers and continues to grow each year.
There are also other resources available for parents living with cancer to support their children. Parents and children can attend support groups, receive counseling, and participate in trips with other families affected by cancer. These options may help children feel that they are not alone in their experiences. Ask your oncologist, nurse, navigator, or oncology social worker for programs near you, or discover a local CSC or Gilda’s Club affiliate to find resources in your area.
Talking openly with your child and answering their questions can also alleviate challenges during a parent’s cancer treatment. Preparing for their inquiries and concerns before they occur is one way to potentially reduce stress for your child. For some tips and possible questions children might ask, visit our page on talking to kids & teens about cancer.
Though every cancer experience is unique, connecting with people with similar stories may help families feel less isolated. It is also ok for children to feel upset, to ask questions, to ask for help, and most importantly, to know that they are not alone.