Receiving a cancer diagnosis may be one of the most difficult things that you experience during the course of your life. For your children, the same is also true. Cancer’s nasty reputation means that when your children find out you have the disease, it is completely natural for them to go through a wide range of negative emotions. They may feel frightened of losing you, angry that the world can be such a cruel place, anxious about the future, or even guilty that you are sick and they are not. These feelings can manifest as physical pain, a decline in school performance, or changes in their interpersonal relationships. Often, children will regress and begin to behave in a way that was typical of their younger selves.
Depending on the age of your children, and your capacity, there are a few steps that you can take to make things a little easier for everyone during this challenging time. It’s important to note that everybody deals with traumatic situations differently. This article does not serve as professional advice. Instead, it can be used as a guide to help you navigate your children’s experience of your cancer journey.
Communication is key
Talking openly (yes, use the word cancer) with others is an incredibly powerful way to take the edge off an emotionally burdensome situation. Although you may feel you want to protect your children by telling them as little as possible, this is likely to cause more damage to their emotional wellbeing in the long run. It also makes them susceptible to believing misinformation that can come from a variety of external sources. That being said, it is important to take into consideration the age of your children and their individual sensitivity levels prior to divulging information. Additionally, if your children openly express that they don’t want to discuss any details, respect their wishes and give them the space to process internally, while making it clear that you are there for them if/when they do want to talk. If they subsequently begin to act in a way that is damaging to themselves or to others, this is a clear indication that they need additional help.
Seek External Support
We can only function optimally when we are looking after ourselves. Attending to your needs is not selfish! While it is important that your children know you are there for them, you may not have the capacity to look after them exactly as you would like to when you are struggling to cope yourself. There is no shame in asking for help from friends or family members, or seeking out professional caregivers/therapists for yourself and/or your children. When you are supported, you will be better able to support your children.
Stick to Your Children’s Normal Routine (as much as possible)
Your life may change quite a lot when you receive a cancer diagnosis, and even more so when you start going through treatment, but keeping some degree of normalcy in your children’s lives can go a long way in helping them cope with the fact that you are sick. Children feel more stable and secure when they have boundaries, so sticking to regular bedtimes and mealtimes, and continuing to attend school and after-school activities will be comforting to them.
Giving Your Children Opportunities to Help
The lack of a sense of control that your children may feel during this time can be mitigated to a degree by involving them in activities that are helpful to you. By being of service, your children may feel less powerless against the cancer, and therefore less anxious. You can use this as an opportunity to develop new rituals in your home, wherein you spend quality time with your children while doing something useful. Rituals have been shown to play a protective role for families during stressful times.
At the end of the day, the most valuable thing that you can do for your children is to show them that although your cancer might affect some aspects of their lives, it will never change how much you love them.