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Getting support when your child has cancer

Having a child with cancer is one of the hardest things you will ever deal with as a parent. Not only are you filled with worry and concern, you also have to keep track of your child's treatments, medical visits, insurance, and so on.

You and your partner are used to managing your family life on your own, but cancer adds an extra burden. Learn how to get help and support so you can cope more easily. That way you will have more time and energy to be there for your child.

Involve Family, Friends, and Your Community

Childhood cancer is tough on a family, but it is also hard on relatives and friends of the family. Let them know that your child is being treated for cancer. Ask trusted family members and close friends for help with household chores or caring for siblings. Having a child with cancer is a crisis in your family, and other people can and will want to help.

You may also want tell people in your community, at work, school, and church. It helps when those around you understand what you are going through. Also, people can help you in different ways. They may have a similar story and can offer support. Or they may be able to help you run errands or cover a work shift.

It can be hard to keep everyone updated on what is going on. Repeating news can be tiring. Online e-mails or social networks are a great way to update the people in your life. You can also receive kind words of support this way. You may want to ask another family member to be the point person to update people and let them know what they can do to help. This will allow you to get support without having to manage it.

Once you let people know, do not be afraid to set boundaries. You may feel grateful that people want to help. But sometimes that help and support can be overwhelming. The most important thing for you and your family is to focus on caring for your child and for one another. When talking with others:

  • Be open and honest
  • Show and tell others how you and your child want to be treated
  • Let people know if they are giving you or your child too much attention

Seek Out Support

Many health care providers and groups are available to help you cope with having a child with cancer. You can reach out to:

  • Your health care team
  • Mental health counselors
  • Online parent support groups
  • Community groups
  • Local hospital classes and groups
  • Churches
  • Self-help books

Talk with a hospital social worker or a local foundation to get help with services or expenses. Private companies and community organizations can also help with insurance filing and finding money to pay for expenses.

Take Care of Yourself

By taking care of yourself, you will show your child how to enjoy what life has to offer.

  • Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. Taking care of your body can give you energy to work with your child and providers. Your child will benefit from having healthy parents.
  • Take special time alone with your spouse and other children and friends. Talk about things other than your child's cancer.
  • Make time for yourself to do things you liked to do before your child got sick. Doing things you enjoy will help keep you balanced and reduce stress. If you feel calm, you will be better able to cope with what comes your way.
  • You may have to spend a lot of time in waiting rooms. Think of something quiet you enjoy, like reading books or magazines, knitting, art, or doing a puzzle. Bring these things with you to enjoy while you wait. You might even do breathing exercises or yoga to help reduce stress.

DO NOT feel guilty about taking delight in life. It is healthy for your child to see you smile and hear you laugh. That makes it OK for your child to feel positive too.

Resources for Parents

These websites have online support groups, books, advice, and information about dealing with childhood cancer.

American Cancer Society -- www.cancer.org

American Childhood Cancer Organization -- www.acco.org

CureSearch for Children's Cancer -- curesearch.org

National Cancer Institute -- www.cancer.gov

References

American Cancer Society. Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Dealing With Diagnosis (Ways to Improve Coping). Updated October 9, 2014. www.cancer.org/treatment/childrenandcancer/whenyourchildhascancer/childrendiagnosedwithcancerdealingwithdiagnosis/children-diagnosed-with-cancer-dealing-with-diagnosis-ways-to-improve-coping. Accessed October 25, 2016.

Liptak C, Zeltzer LM, Recklitis CJ. Psychosocial care of the child and family. In: Orkin SH, Fisher DE, Ginsburg D, Look AT, Lux SE, Nathan DG, eds. Nathan and Oski's Hematology and Oncology of Infancy and Childhood. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 73.

National Cancer Institute. Children with Cancer: A Guide for Parents. Updated September 2015. www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/guide-for-parents. Accessed October 25, 2016.

Review Date 8/31/2016

Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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