How to Cope When Your Child Is Diagnosed with Cancer

childhood cancer

No parent is ever prepared to hear these words, “Your child has cancer.” According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO), almost 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer every year.

The diagnosis is overwhelming. Emotions run high, including:

  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Fear

Learning to Cope – The First Steps

Feeling these emotions are normal and are part of coping. Getting these feelings out lets you transition into seeking the best possible treatment options and preparing a plan to run the household during treatment.

It’s OK to feel scared. You’ll reach out to others and ask questions. You’ll research treatment options. There are serious financial considerations, but you’ll manage. It’s important to share your story and reach out for help. Don’t be reluctant. People want to help, and you’re going to need help.

  • Seek guidance from a mental health professional.
  • Connect to family members (near and far).
  • Ask for spiritual help – accept the help of a church organization.
  • Don’t hide your fear from your child’s medical team – they want to help the family too.
  • Find other families facing childhood cancer.
  • Take care of yourself so you can take care of your child.
  • Never refuse any help offered.
  • Keep existing friendships and family ties as you make new friends.
  • Comfort your child and explain about cancer in an age-appropriate way.
  • Don’t overlook your other children’s needs and worries.

Gradually the treatment options for the most precious patient in the world will evolve into a plan.

Coping with Details of the Cancer Journey

Reassure your child. Never forget your child’s concerns. They are smart and pick up on your fears. Reassure your child that nothing they did caused the cancer. Comfort them as only you can.

Prepare your child for changes in their appearance. Ask your child’s healthcare team about what to expect during their cancer journey. Toddlers may not notice these changes, but older children and teenagers can be particularly sensitive about their appearance during treatment. A beanie or a hat or scarf provides warmth and comfort. Reassurance that hair loss or weight loss is only temporary goes a long way when a pre-teen or teenager is facing cancer. Try diverting their attention from what’s happening now to what they want to do afterward – perhaps it’s a trip to the zoo, summer camp or a birthday party.

Don’t forget your significant other. Remember that they are worried too and are trying to work and keep the household together. Communicate every day and cherish each other. If one parent is out of town at a treatment center, text and email regularly to keep them in the loop about the actual treatment and how your child is doing.

Include the siblings. Brothers and sisters want to be updated too. Remember that they are frightened too but might not want to worry you. Share positive pictures from the treatment center to reassure your other children that their sibling is OK.

Update family and friends. It’s almost impossible to update everyone every day. Consider creating a Facebook page exclusively for your child’s cancer journey – include your child’s name and share with family, friends, and co-workers. You can also create a Caring Bridge page and share the link on your Facebook page.

Look after yourself. Exercise and eat healthy food to ensure you stay strong.

Download this free 92-page eBook from the National Cancer Institute to get answers to questions before you even ask them. No one ever expects their child to be diagnosed with cancer. But here you are … you’ll be brave and strong for them because it’s what we do when being strong is the only option. Choose Hope – hope permits us to acknowledge the depth of the valley while keeping the vision of life after treatment.


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