HERE ARE a few ways for parents to cope with their emotions when their child has cancer.
Hearing the doctor say the words, “Your child has cancer” is never easy. Parents go through several emotional stages, much like the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, unlike loss a loved one, cancer can go on for several years with many highs and lows.
This results in stages that vary in timing, duration and cycles. By acknowledging and understanding the stages you can better progress through the phases.
Childhood cancer always comes out of nowhere and families are in utter shock when it happens. The life of your healthy, happy child could surely never be linked to a malignant tumour. Many parents report feelings of numbness. They are unable to think clearly and struggle to remember things the doctor said.
The shock will only subside over time, but can be alleviated. Reach out to family or friends and discuss the situation. This helps sort through the many questions and thoughts going on in your mind. Ask a close friend to take notes when meeting with doctors, so if you do experience a “blank” moment, there is someone to write down important points.
Disbelief and denial
Often parents think some crazy mistake has been made and that the results couldn’t possibly pertain to their child. This denial should not be allowed to delay seeking treatment.
However, second opinions are recommended and will help to reassure you. Research from credible resources will open up your mind to the different types of cancer that might resemble your child’s diagnosis.
Fear and anxiety
Parents will fear the process ahead. Even if you have some experience with cancer, you will still be unsure, as every process and diagnosis is different. Although it feels like the world has stopped, unfortunately, it hasn’t. You are going to feel pressure in your job, caring for your other children and financial strain due to the high costs of medical treatments.
To reduce anxiety, be aware of your thoughts and avoid negative self-talk. Stay away from the hospital vending machines as processed foods and caffeine can boost anxiety. Also, try to do light exercise daily and get proper sleep. Both are powerful tools in managing stress.
Parents will often question where they went wrong, or wonder whether they were paying enough attention. Mothers may question if they were responsible through their behaviour during pregnancy.
To make more sense of it, they often look to themselves and others to blame. This can result in family conflict. It is important for parents to overcome this feeling of guilt as it may distract them from the important tasks and decisions they need to make.
From person to person these stages will never be the same but, by understanding that you are not alone in feeling your emotions, you will be more equipped to manage this time as effectively as possible. Practising self-love through caring about your personal health will help you be more present for your child and family.
Emily Gray is an amputee reintegration and motivation specialist. She was diagnosed with an osteosarcoma when she was 11 years old, which necessitated the amputation of her left leg through the hip. She then went on to represent South Africa at three Paralympic Games. She now helps amputees and cancer patients reintegrate into society by focusing on their physical and mental wellbeing.