A diagnosis of lymphoma, myeloma or leukemia in the family can cause an enormous upheaval in a child’s life. They may wonder or imagine what the future will hold and how it will affect them in their daily life. Here are the top 10 ways you can help your children adjust to your cancer diagnosis.
1. Talk About It
Keeping open communication with your children about your cancer diagnosis serves many purposes. It allows your child to get accurate information, it makes them feel important and valued, and prevents them from having to imagine or fantasize about what is happening. Children will feel more secure if they know that they will be kept in the loop if there is a new change.
Keep in mind that children have an uncanny ability to “read between the lines” and may be learning as much from what you are saying as they are from how you are behaving.
2. Answer and Encourage Questions:
Although this goes hand in hand with “talking about it,” questions are not only a way for kids to get information, but also for you to gauge where they are coming from and where their interests or concerns lay.
Worried that you don’t have all the answers? That’s OK too! Take your time to answer the difficult ones, but always get back to them.
3. Keep Their Regular Routine:
Easier said than done when trying to dodge around between treatments and appointments, all while continuing to manage a household. It may seem impossible at times! Children thrive on routine and love the predictability of knowing what comes next, especially when many aspects of their lives are so uncertain.
Try to make it a priority that your kids continue with their usual activities such as meal times, sports, time with friends, school. This may mean that you need to recruit help to balance your schedule with that of your children.
4. Be Honest and Realistic:
It is particularly important when things are so confusing and uncertain to children that they know you are being truthful with them. Be realistic and honest when setting their expectations. If you won’t be able to coach the soccer team this year, say so. If you won’t be able to join their class on the school trip, say so. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so.
5. Prepare Them:
Once again, kids are comforted by knowing what to expect. Explain what blood and marrow cancers look like and what side effects you might expect such as hair loss, nausea, and fatigue. If you know what your treatment plan includes, try to share what your experience of cancer therapy might be like. This will take a good deal of the mystery and fear out of the situation.
6. Stay Interested and Involved:
It is very easy to become consumed by a life threatening illness. It takes over your time, your thoughts, and those of your family as well. Staying interested and paying attention to your child’s regular activities will help you to stay connected to a life outside of cancer, and will let your child know that they have not been forgotten.
7. Talk About Something Else!:
Throughout your cancer journey, many people will want to call or visit you. A good deal of conversation is going to occur about your disease! But, especially for your child, there is a whole world of activities and topics to discuss and explore. Try to set aside family time for you to spend with your children, and limit the amount of visiting and discussing of your condition during that time.
8. Tell Your Child’s School:
Letting your child’s school know about what is going on in your family may help prevent issues later on. Teachers can be on the lookout for any changes in behavior or performance that you would not have the opportunity to see. Also, they may have access to resources that can provide additional counseling or support if your child should need it.
9. Seek Help if Needed
If you feel like your child is having difficulty coping with your cancer diagnosis, is showing signs of depression or anxiety,or just if they ask to speak to someone outside of the family, professionals are available to help you. Counselors are typically readily accessible through cancer centers and schools that can assist your child with the adjustment to your cancer diagnosis.
10. Let Them Know You Love Them:
Being treated for a blood or marrow cancer can cause you to be absent, both physically and mentally. Letting your children know that they are loved and that you are making sure they are well cared for is important for them to feel reassured and safe.
Eyre, H., Lange, D., Morris, L. (2002) Informed Decisions 2nd Ed. American Cancer Society: Atlanta, GA.
Rauch, P., Durant, S. “Helping Children Cope With a Parent’s Cancer” in Stern, T., Sekeres, M. eds (2004) Facing Cancer. McGraw-Hill: New York.