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My child has just been diagnosed with cancer: coping with feelings and fears

7 min - Read

If you have just found out that your child has cancer, you are probably feeling shock and disbelief. The news can be very difficult to come to terms with, and you may be struggling to understand what the future holds for your child and how this will affect the rest of your family. The decisions ahead may seem very frightening. You may feel numb and not believe what is happening. These painful emotions of anger, sadness, guilt, fear and denial are all common and normal feelings for parents who have been told their child has cancer.

Focus on what needs to be done

It might seem hard to believe at first, but most parents get through these initial reactions and emotions by focusing on what needs to be done to help support their child and family through this time. You know your child better than anyone, including how they cope in unfamiliar situations; what makes them fearful, sad and happy; and how to help them relax during stressful moments. If you are calm, loving, present and reassuring, this will help your child immensely to cope with the treatment.

Your child's feelings and fears

It is also important to allow your child the opportunity to have fears and to grieve. They need to feel that they can approach you whenever they want to discuss what they’re going through. Being honest with each other about fears and feelings can be very positive for your child’s wellbeing and ability to cope, as well as your own.

There is no right or wrong way to feel

Importantly, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Most parents find that their emotions go up and down over the course of a child’s treatment. Some days you might feel you are coping, and other days you might feel completely lost or out of control. Some people refer to this as an ‘emotional roller-coaster’. It is important to admit these feelings to those around you, including your family, other supporters and your child’s treatment team. These changes in how you feel may coincide with stages in your child’s cancer journey (such as diagnosis, before treatment starts, during treatment and after treatment).

The diagnosis can come as a huge shock to everyone in the family. Each person will be trying to deal with their own feelings. These can include shock, fear, anger, sadness and disbelief.

The effects of the child’s cancer often extends to the wider community of school teachers, classmates, neighbours and other people in contact with the child and their family during this illness. Everyone involved needs the right information to support them through this difficult time. The following sections may provide help with this.

Some Tips to help you cope

Whilst no-one can fully prepare a parent to cope with their child having cancer we hope the following tips will help.

  • Ask your doctors where to get information on the internet. Some websites are not trustworthy and provide misleading information which can be dangerous and upsetting.
  • Do not try to be “brave” and cope alone. Doctors, nurses and all staff at the hospital want to help you. Talk to them, let them know how you feel and ask for help.
  • Ask close family and friends for help with home duties (cooking, washing, cleaning, shopping) and caring for your other children. They will want to help but may need guidance as to what to do. Don’t be afraid to tell them!
  • Look after yourself. Most parents find this the hardest thing to do, as they focus completely on their sick child’s needs. But it is important to take time out for you and not feel guilty for doing this. You cannot be expected to care for your child if you are not first taking care of yourself.
  • Try to talk about your feelings with those you trust. Most people say that when they share their sadness, anger or fear it helps. If you feel you may need some professional counselling ask your General Practitioner or the social worker at the hospital for a referral.
  • Set up a group email or blog for people who want to know how things are going, or delegate a close friend or family member to give information to the rest of your friendship and family groups. It can be overwhelming to try and inform everyone all the time about what is happening for your child. Be careful about the information you post about your child, he or she may not want their private information in the public arena.
  • Take time out to spend with your partner, family and friends. Having a child with cancer can put a lot of strain on your close relationships. It is important to maintain communication both through talking and physical intimacy where possible.
  • Ask for information and support from the many organisations that help children with cancer and their families.
  • Find here the contact of your local CCI affiliate and other useful ressources for help.

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