It’s a scenario that every patient dreads. Sitting with them in the doctor’s office and desperately trying to wrap your head around the gravity of such a grave diagnosis. This shouldn’t be happening to anyone, let alone a child whose journey through life has barely begun.
You want to cry, to scream, to call the doctor a quack, to tip over her desk, to raise your voice to the heavens and roar at the inequity of this terrible situation. That mother lion instinct kicks in and you want to use yourself as a human shield against this tragic occurrence. To invite their illness into yourself so that they can have their childhood back.
From the moment they were born your brain reorganized itself and made them your number one priority. You promised yourself that you’d protect them… But how can a parent protect their child from this?
When your child is diagnosed with cancer, it’s easy to feel powerless or worse still as though this has all come about because of a fundamental failing on your part. But you are neither culpable nor helpless. You’ve been there through every adversity your son or daughter has ever been through.
Through scraped knees and falls from trees. Through fights with friends and disappointing test scores. You want to fight on their behalf… But you can’t. All you can do is help them to fight it. All children (and parents) will react to a cancer diagnosis in different ways. They may be calm and brave, they may be angry, they may be inconsolable or they may be terrified. As in most things, it helps to have a battle plan.
Here are some tips to help you assemble yours…
Remember, your reaction will inform your son or daughter’s
Despite the severity and gravity of the diagnosis, it’s important to check yourself in the way in which you react. All kids use their parents as an emotional barometer and they will take their emotional cues from you in this unprecedented situation.
It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to get upset. But try to think about the effect your reaction will have on your son or daughter. Children are empathetic creatures and seeing you upset may make things worse. That said, it’s also important to teach them not to suppress their emotions.
Be honest but age appropriate
Your child will likely have a lot of questions that you may or may not know the answers to. But perhaps the worst thing you can do is keep important information from them or try to gloss over their questions and concerns.
This is a serious matter and needs to be taken seriously. As much as you may wish that you could insulate your child from the physical and emotional rigors of their condition, to sugar coat things now will make them vulnerable to a rude awakening when their treatment starts.
Be honest in answering their questions. While obviously keeping your answers age appropriate. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them to remember it for the next time they see their oncologist.
Be realistic but never give up hope
It’s unfair to you and your child to have unrealistic expectations following a diagnosis. That said, while denial can be severely counter productive, hope is a powerful motivator. Aside from the obvious psychological benefits of a hopeful perspective, it’s important to remember that new advancements are being made in cancer research every day with gene editing technologies poised to revolutionize the way in which we treat diseases which have until now been believed incurable.
Getting palliative care is not an admission of defeat
There are many who get extremely sensitive when words such as hospice or palliative care become a part of the conversation. This is largely because a lot of assumptions have been made when it comes to the function of hospices and the role of palliative care. And unless you’ve been brought into personal contact with them, it’s unlikely that your preconceptions have a chance to be dispelled.
Palliative care does not mean a terminal diagnosis. Palliative care simply means treating the symptoms of the condition rather than the condition itself and encompasses a wide range of disciplines, see more at CURA-HPC.
Although palliative care is most commonly associated with life limiting conditions, a referral to a hospice does not necessarily mean a terminal diagnosis. Hospices are not where people go to die. They’re simply where patients go to receive a different kind of treatment than they get in the hospital.
Make sure they eat their veggies… No, seriously!
It’s completely understandable in the wake of a cancer diagnosis if you want to spoil your child. You probably want to give them ice cream for breakfast, pizza for lunch and pizza topped with cheeseburgers for dinner. But as natural as this instinct may be, let’s not forget the massive impact that what we eat has on our health. Kids may have efficient metabolisms, but they need their nutrients now more than ever.
By all means treat them every now and then. But make sure that they get plenty of fresh veggies on their plate for every meal. Vegetables are loaded with phytonutrients which are essential for healthy immune system. Indeed, this stage 4 cancer patient swears that he fought off his disease simply by turning to a whole foods, plant based diet. Moreover, sugar is the preferred fuel of cancer cells. Starving them of this fuel has been shown to inhibit their growth. Helping to make their condition more manageable and aiding their chances of recovery.
Finally… Take care of you
As important as it is to guide your child through this nightmarish ordeal, don’t forget that you need help and care too. You may be a rock to your child. But even the mightiest of rocks can erode given enough time and pressure.
If you’re to truly give your child the care and attention they deserve, it’s essential that you have a release valve to let off steam and unload the stress of your own ordeal. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s oncologist to refer you to a counselling service. It can only ever improve your ability to help them.