My Child Was Diagnosed With Cancer – Now What?

When a child first receives a cancer diagnosis, the news impacts the entire family. Everyone processes this differently, but typical reactions can include fear, shock, disbelief, guilt, confusion, anger, and sadness.

Our team in the Patient and Family Wellness Center in the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute addresses all aspects of the psychosocial needs of patients and families throughout treatment.  Our mission is to care for the behavioral, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, logistical and functional needs of our patients and families.

Because a new cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, I thought it might be helpful to list some considerations as you begin this journey with your child.

Things to consider following a cancer diagnosis


Utilize the social workers

At Cincinnati Children’s, each patient who receives a cancer diagnosis receives a dedicated social worker. That’s how important we feel this service is. Families are typically already stressed by everything else that they have going on in their lives. Social workers can help you sort through your logistical and financial needs as well as provide social support.

Ask for and accept help

You will need the support from your friends and family more than you ever have before. People will overwhelmingly want to help, but may not know how. You may have to tell them what you need. This blog post written by a mom of a boy with leukemia offers some suggestions.

Be careful about the source of your medical information

There is a lot of scary information on the internet – some of it is accurate, some not. Some sites may not be relevant to your child’s diagnosis. We recommend that families ask their medical team for the best sources of trusted information.

Accept that everyone copes differently

It may be difficult when you’re in the thick of things, but accepting that everyone copes differently can be helpful to your family. Some people process quietly. Others want to talk about every emotion they’re having. Some need to write it all down.

You own your child’s information

Share information about your child however you want, whenever you’re ready. You will likely experience a roller coaster of emotions throughout your child’s journey with cancer. Well-intentioned friends and family are going to ask you a lot of questions and you may not be ready to answer them. Sometimes you have to deal with the emotions before you’re ready to answer questions. It is perfectly okay to say, “I’m not ready to answer that, but I appreciate your concern.” Or, if you’re comfortable, direct them to a place where you are sharing information, such as a caringbridge.org site or a Facebook page.

Find support for siblings

Cancer is draining on the entire family, including your other children. They will need support as well. Your social worker can help you explain what’s happening to your other children. Also, this is where your friends and family members can be utilized if you are unable to get away from the hospital.

Take care of yourself

Seeing a loved one through cancer treatment is a marathon, not a sprint. You will be better able to help your child if you are taking care of yourself. This is a difficult thing to do when your child is going through something traumatic. When you’re comfortable and ready, you will benefit tremendously from eating right, exercising, talking to someone you trust or a psychologist, and if it fits for you, praying.

I hope that this list can serve as a starting point. If you have any questions about cancer and blood diseases care, or would like to schedule an appointment, please visit our webpage for more information.

Ahna Pai, PhD

About the Author: Ahna Pai, PhD

Ahna Pai, PhD, is director of the Patient and Family Wellness Center in the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute and pediatric psychologist in Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology at Cincinnati Children’s.  She has devoted her career to improving the psychosocial care of children diagnosed with cancer and their families.

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