When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it affects the whole family. Treatment can change your schedule and routines. Everyone may feel worried and stressed about your child’s health. And because she’s ill, she becomes the center of attention.
These changes can be hard for other kids in your family to deal with. They can take a toll on your relationship with a partner, too. But there’s a lot you can do to keep your whole family strong during this tough time.
Share What You Know
Cancer is stressful for everyone in the family. Even young kids can sense that things have changed. They may not understand what cancer is, but they know it’s not good to be sick. At the same time, members of your extended family, like grandparents, aunts, and uncles, may also feel worried. They may want to help but don’t know how.
You may want to shield your loved ones from any bad news or scary details, but keeping them in the dark isn’t a smart idea. Let others know what’s going on with your child as she goes through cancer treatment. You don’t have to share every detail. But regular updates can ease worries and help others feel involved. If your child’s siblings are young, even a simple explanation can do a lot to help them deal with their sibling’s illness and treatment.
If you don’t have the time or energy to reach out to every family member, try appointing one person who can relay your updates to the rest of the group.
There’s another benefit to sharing your child’s progress with others. It shows her that cancer isn’t something she should hide or be ashamed of.
If you’re having trouble talking to others about your child’s cancer, reach out to her medical team. Cancer treatment centers usually have social workers on staff. They can help you find the right words to share what your child is going through with family members and friends.
Ask for Help
If you have other children, it’s important to try to keep their lives as normal as possible while their sibling goes through treatment for cancer. That can be tricky if you’re busy with medical appointments and other care for your sick child. But friends, family members, and neighbors want to help -- and letting them do so can make things a lot easier.
Come up with a family calendar or schedule, or ask someone to create one for you. Then share it with others to find out who can help with rides, meals, homework, and even just playing with your children.
Acting Out Is Normal
If your other kids act out, withdraw, or have trouble in school, that’s normal. It’s hard for children to have a sibling with a serious health problem. Even older teens can struggle with the fact that you may not have as much time or attention to offer while you’re helping your child with cancer.
Try to check in with your kids regularly to see how they’re doing. If you’re worried, and talking to them doesn’t seem to help, ask your pediatrician, a social worker, or another mental health professional to help.
While kids should try to stick to their usual schedules, it can help to have them spend time with their sick brother or sister. School-aged kids can tour the cancer clinic, meet the doctor or medical team, and ask questions. Some cancer centers even have special groups and programs for siblings.
Don’t Go It Alone
If you’re married or you have a partner, your relationship may be the last thing on your mind while your child is going through treatment. But spending time together can help relieve stress for both of you.
Remember that everyone deals with tough times differently. If your partner doesn’t seem as upset as you, that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling. If you’re having trouble communicating about your child’s diagnosis and treatment, think about seeing a social worker or a mental health professional who specializes in helping families during cancer care. They can help you and your partner come together and strengthen your bond.
Care for Yourself
Caring for a child with cancer and focusing on your family can leave you feeling stretched thin. That’s why it’s so important to make a little time for yourself each day. It’s not selfish -- it will make you a better caregiver to your whole family and lower the odds that you’ll burn out.
Spend time with people who make you feel good. And do things that relieve stress, like taking a walk or working on a hobby you enjoy. If you feel like you’re getting exhausted, or that your relationships with family or friends are in trouble, talk to your child’s cancer care team. They can point you to resources within your community and at the cancer center.