How to support the parents of a child with cancer
Director at CancerPal
What to do?
According to Cancer Research UK around 1,900 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK. Watching someone you love go through a cancer diagnosis is a heart-breaking experience and many parents tell us that finding out their child has cancer is the worst thing that has ever happened to them. If a child in your community is diagnosed with cancer, it’s natural to want to help, but you might not always know how to show your support. When a child has cancer, the whole family is affected so we’ve put together 7 tips on how you can support the whole family through a cancer diagnosis. 1. Say something With something as shocking as a child cancer diagnosis, friends often do not know what to say. They may worry about saying the wrong thing and causing more upset or they may just find the whole situation too upsetting. However, to say nothing at all will only make matters worse for a family already devastated by the news. Whether it’s in person, on the phone, via text message or you just want to send a thoughtful card – it’s so important to keep in touch. Knowing that you care will really matter. There’s also nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t know what to say. “I’m so sorry to hear this but I’m here for you” will mean a lot. And remember that they might not have the time or space to reply, so it can be helpful to reassure them that you don’t expect a response. 2. Don’t ask – just do If you say that you’re going to be there to help, then it’s really important to follow through. People are generally not very good at asking for help and so the kind offer of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” is rarely taken up. If you really want to help, you may need to be proactive. Cooked meals for the family, mean one less thing for the parents to worry about and are always likely to be welcomed. Offering to take siblings to school, after school clubs or even just to the park can provide the family with some well needed breathing space. You could also offer to do some chores. When someone in the family is seriously ill, chores tend to take a back seat. You could tidy your friend’s house while they are in the hospital, do some shopping for them, take a bag of ironing or even walk the dog.
How can I help?
Bring necessities Children with cancer often spend a prolonged period in hospital. Parents will often take turns staying with the child while caring for other siblings at home. It’s a time of chaos and stress. Family and friends can help by bringing necessities that the parents might not be able to get in the hospital or have time to pick up at home. Hospital stays and recovering from treatment can be long and boring, so activities for the child to help pass the time such as books, magazines, toys or crafts will always be appreciated. Toiletries such as soap, shampoo toothpaste etc. can also be extremely helpful – and don’t forget toiletries for the parents too. Taking a quick shower in the hospital might be the only break that parent gets. Many children with cancer lose their appetites and one of the most distressing things for parents is trying to tempt their poorly child to eat something. Many parents have expressed their gratitude when friends have arrived with healthy, nutritious goodies to help tempt their child to eat something. It’s always a good idea to ask if there’s anything the parents need as they may have a list of items ready. Help with siblings Having a child in hospital can upset the family routine and can be as disruptive to the lives of “well” children as it is to their brothers or sisters with cancer. Offers of childcare will not only help practically but could offer siblings some welcome distraction and fun. Parents often worry about siblings feeling left out when the majority of the focus and attention is on the sick child, so outings and small distractions will mean a lot for the siblings. If you want to send a gift for the child with cancer, think about giving something equally special to his or her siblings. Not only will the siblings appreciate it, the parents will too. Give the parents a break Looking after a child with cancer is all encompassing, but every once in a while, parents just need to get away for a little bit in order to recharge. You could offer to sit with their child while they go for a walk, have a snooze, pop to the shops or even just enjoy a warm cup of coffee. Perhaps you could offer to do something together with your friend as a distraction from cancer. You could go for a walk together, watch a film or even just lend a listening ear. The financial burden of having a child with cancer can soon mount up, so you could buy them a gift card for a local restaurant so that they can treat themselves to a takeaway. Keep infection at bay This one is so important. A child undergoing cancer treatment will have a lowered immune system and it’s vital they are shielded from outside influences that could potentially compromise their fragile immune system. If you really want to support the family of a child with cancer it’s important that you help them keep their child safe and prevent infections from entering the family home. If you have even the tiniest of coughs or snivels, you really mustn’t visit the family, no matter how disappointing that might be. The family will always understand and will be grateful for your thoughtfulness and understanding of their situation.
Future and Support
Be there in the future Many families tell us they are deluged with texts, calls and messages of support in the first few weeks following a cancer diagnosis. However, cancer treatment can be a long haul and the months and years after treatment, when families may look like they are putting their lives back together, can actually be the hardest. The fear of the cancer returning will be forever present and each time their child gets ill, the waves of fear and stress will return, along with the need for emotional and practical support for the family.
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Jo Riley is the founding director of CancerPal, an online hub that supports the family and friends of those going through cancer so that they in turn can provide the best possible support to their loved ones. Find out more information.
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