‘Your child has cancer’ are words no family ever wants to hear. Yet, every six hours this sentence changes everything for an Australian family.
Cycling through feelings of shock, fear, disbelief and anger, parents often have little to no time to process the devastating news before they find themselves thrust into a world of medical terminology, hospital wards and endless rounds of treatment and procedures. Similarly, it can be hard to find the words to tell your child what is happening to them. This booklet from the Cancer Council is a great start to help you explain a cancer diagnosis.
Every experience is different and everybody processes and copes in their own unique way but there are a few key techniques that can help you get through those first numbing 48 hours.
Treatment for cancer can result in extensive stays in hospital. Any family facing a cancer diagnosis can expect their day to day routines to be thrown out the window. Defining early on the roles each family member is going to take on during this time can be incredibly useful. Who will spend most of their time at the hospital? Who is able to work to keep income coming in? Who will take care of siblings?
By clearly defining roles from the beginning it allows everyone to focus on what they need to do and avoids any feelings of resentment or confusion when the initial shock wears off. See this article for suggested ways to help manage your family relationships.
Expressing your feelings during the first few days after diagnosis provides a really important outlet for everyone involved. Your child may be incredibly distressed and parents often feel that they must refrain from expressing their own concerns.
In fact, studies have shown that expressing powerful emotions can be extremely beneficial not only for the person feeling those emotions but also for the wider community around them. There are many ways to channel your emotions positively and reaching out to your partner, extended family members, trusted friends and even professional counsellors can help you feel less alone. This letter, written by an oncology mum, may help you sort through these feelings as you embark on this next chapter. You may also find comfort in our tips and hints section where you will find a range of practical tips and advice from parents who have walked in your shoes before.
For many, learning everything they can about their child’s cancer and the many treatment options available, provides a sense of control over what is happening. Your child’s medical team is there to help so don’t be intimidated about asking all the questions you need to ask, keep a journal to record any information you receive, seek out pamphlets and books, visit Cancer Advisor for specifically curated items and don’t forget to ask other parents around you on the ward who are often a great source of information. You may find it useful to search through our hospital information section to learn more about your child’s treating hospital and their team.