Coping With Your Child's Cancer Diagnosis

OncoLink Team
Last Modified: August 12, 2016

Having a child diagnosed with cancer is a life changing event. It can bring about a range of emotions and feelings including worry, anger, sadness, strength, hope, fear, nervousness, doubt and guilt. These emotions and feelings are normal and to be expected at various points in the cancer journey.

Coping is defined as the ability to "successfully deal with a difficult situation." You, your child, and your family will have good days and bad days, but successful coping with your child’s diagnosis and treatment plan will help you all adjust to life with and after cancer.

Just as everyone's cancer diagnosis and treatment plan is unique, so are their reactions and methods for coping with the diagnosis. It's important to give yourself and your family permission to feel and experience these emotions, to talk about them, to work through them, and to get help if and when you need it. Remember that it is ok to feel distress, depression, anxiety, sadness, worry, nervousness, happiness, relief, hope and any other emotion.

Coping tips and tricks:

  • Get informed about your child’s diagnosis, treatment, potential side effects and interventions available to help your child and family through treatment. Knowledge is power; don't be afraid to ask questions and do your research.
  • The family should stay active; light exercise is very helpful in relieving stress and combating cancer related fatigue. You don't have to run a 5k or attend a 60 minute spin class. Even a short walk around the neighborhood can be energizing.
  • While being alone can be restorative and meditative, it's important to avoid social isolation. While you may not feel like entertaining company every day, you can still remain connected with social supports even if it's through a phone call, Facebook, blog post or an email. Friends and family who care about your child and your family are available to listen, hold your hand, cry with you, and laugh with you.
  • Your children’s friends and peers will also experience a wide range of reactions after hearing of their friend’s cancer diagnosis. Your child may experience sadness, bullying, loneliness and anger. They may also make new friends at their cancer treatment center or through support groups. It’s important to encourage your child to share their feelings about their friendships, to question why someone may be “afraid” of cancer, and to make new relationships. 
  • Be mindful of the needs of siblings of pediatric cancer patients. Your other children also need love, support, and guidance through this time. They can also be a great sources of strength and assistance to the family unit. 
  • Consider complimentary or integrative methods to support your family’s coping, including yoga, art therapy, music therapy, spiritual support, reiki, meditation and relaxation techniques.
  • Communicate with your medical team if you are having a hard time coping with your child’s diagnosis and treatment or if your family is experiencing difficulties adjusting and thriving.
  • Just as it was BEFORE your child was diagnosed with cancer, it is important to care for yourself by eating well, getting needed rest, and continuing to exercise.
  • What helped your family cope with difficult experiences before your child was diagnosed with cancer? Identify the techniques that your family used to help manage other periods of stress and distress in your lives – put those time-trusted techniques to use now.

If you are having a hard time managing your emotions, it is important to talk to your healthcare team about your feelings. Coping with cancer is tough! Do not be afraid to ask your healthcare team, family, friends, and other support persons for help when you need it. Ask for referrals for counseling or therapy. A social worker or navigator can help you investigate your mental health benefits and identify practitioners who are within your insurance company's provider network. Remember employer based resources (employee assistance programs) as well.

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