“Your child has cancer.” I imagine this is one of the worst phrases you could hear as a parent. Nothing can prepare you for the gut punch and the rollercoaster treatment that goes along with it. Days, weeks, and months of clinic appointments, steroids, home injections, chemo, blood products, fevers, and emergency room visits. In an instant, your life has changed, and any sense of “normal” has disappeared. It can be hard to continue normal routines and ways of life when in the throes of Childhood Cancer. As a nurse, I interact with many families on the pediatric oncology floor.
It can be easy to get caught up in the struggles that come with having a sick child, but “the child you raise on treatment is the child you get when it’s over.” Many times, when I meet new families whose child was just diagnosed, there is a lot of bribing, giving in, enabling, and “hand holding”. It can be hard to tell them “no” after their life has changed drastically and, let’s be honest, steroids are NO joke! Treatment can last anywhere from six months to almost three years. This is a crucial time for personality development and brain maturation. This is why it is vital to maintain consistent parenting strategies throughout treatment to ensure a more successful transition once treatment is over.
Kids need discipline, and it is ok to give your child receiving treatment boundaries. Children need to know where the line is, and they will try to cross it. Along with these limits, do not feel guilty disciplining your child. Discipline is perfectly normal and important to give your child. It can be hard to stick with rules and consequences, but just because they are receiving chemo does not mean they can disrespect you, their medical team, family, or friends. It can be hard to maintain this when feeling their worst, so it is especially important to practice this while they feel their best. A tip I love to give parents is to let your nurse be the “bad guy” while in the hospital. We can be the ones enforcing the “rules”, handling the hard medications, arm pokes, and hospital “jobs” while you are admitted, and you can focus on the other aspects of parenting.
Another tip I find helpful is talking through the feelings and emotional waves that come with a new cancer diagnosis. There can be a lot of big feelings and reactions that occur with a cancer diagnosis, not only for the parents but also for the child. I’ve found that families who talk through their feelings with one another find healthy ways for their children to process what they are going through. Some ideas I share are journaling together, praying, and using an “emotion wheel.” It’s also vital to have conversations together. It is ok and normal to feel stressed, angry, sad, and overwhelmed after finding out your child has cancer, but it is also important to teach your kids and model healthy coping strategies that will help them through this phase in their life and equip them for future battles.
After treatment, it can be hard to get back into “normal” life. If you’ve spent your child’s treatment phase by enabling, not having them take certain responsibilities, not offering choices, and “hand holding,” you are more likely to have a harder transition back into a more normal routine. Keeping up with normal parenting is essential in getting to the other side.
It can be difficult to see your child in pain, getting chemo, and going through procedure after procedure. But maintaining good boundaries, discipline, and communication with your child will help you successfully get through treatment. Remember, you are the parent, and you know what is best for your child to help them grow and flourish once cancer is over. Reminding yourself that there is a light at the end of what can be a very long, dark tunnel will help you when making some more difficult parenting decisions. Lean on other families living through Childhood Cancer, your medical team, family, friends, and God for support. We are here to help you and your child make it to the end!
MEET SARAH: Sarah is a registered nurse at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. She has nine years of experience in hematology, oncology, and bone marrow transplants. Sarah enjoys the relationships formed with her patients and their families, advocating for their personal medical needs and empowering the families to learn how to best care for their children at home. Sarah describes her job as "one of the most rewarding experiences.” It can be very hard to witness the joy and extreme pain these families experience, but it is one of my highest honors to walk through that with them. Sarah has enjoyed serving as the medical lead on Lighthouse retreats and looks forward to serving on more this year!