Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Things I Wish I'd Known: Cancer and Kids


“It’s hard to ask children to understand the randomness with which cancer arrives, uninvited, or the ambiguity far beyond their years that cancer poses when most adults are struggling to do the same.”
Deborah J. Cornwall

According to the CDC, about 8 million people from around the world die from cancer each year.  Chances are you or someone you know has a loved one who is battling the disease.  It’s a hard issue for any adult to confront and if you’re a parent, it becomes even more difficult.  How do you tell your kids that someone they love has a terminal illness?  And when your loved one passes on, how do you grieve and be there for your child at the same time?  These thoughts can be overwhelming. 

As someone who has lost 3 people to cancer, I immediately identified with Deborah J. Cornwall’s book Things I Wish I’d Known; Cancer with Kids.  I can still recall reading fairy tales to my children and purposely leaving out the part in Cinderella where the mother dies.  I didn’t want them to even imagine that something like that could happen.  However by the time they were ages 2 and 4, I had lost both of my Grandparents as well as my Father and I was at a loss of words as to how to explain it to my children.  I only wish I had access to this book back then.

Sharing the News
Talking to your kids about cancer and helping them deal with their own emotions is an issue Cornwall tackles early in her book.  She states that “children are more perceptive than we realize and that the family will be better off with more communication, rather than less.”  She also offers tips on how to share the news such as:

·        Be Proactive – Children are intuitive.  They can sense when something isn’t right either from your mood, tone or a change in routine.  It’s better to tell them what’s going on instead of allowing their imagination to get the better of them.

·        Meet the Child’s Needs, Not Your Own – Cornwall suggests that you communicate with your children since they have fewer resources to understand what’s going on.  My son was young when my father died.  He knew his grandfather had cancer but he lacked the life experience to make sense of it all and therefore began to become afraid that someone else he loved might die.  This in turn gave him tremendous anxiety which led to problems later on. 

·        Be Direct – She states how important it is to be honest and forthright with your children.  In addition she suggests ways to moderate the conversation according to your child’s age.

Managing Impact
Managing the impact that cancer has on children’s lives is very important.  Whether it’s a parent, grandparent or sibling, cancer will leave a lasting impression and will undoubtedly change them.  Cornwall recommends principals for managing emotions that tie into a cancer diagnosis.  Furthermore she offers an entire chapter in which she lists a variety of support resources for children and adults ranging from before treatment to grief counseling.

When the Child is the Patient

Things I Wish I’d Known: Cancer and Kids
is also a great resource for parents that are dealing with a cancer diagnosis for their child.  It describes in detail the importance of understanding the diagnosis fast and how to advocate for your child during treatment.  She states, “If your gut tells you something isn’t right, ask the professional caregivers to explain what they are doing and why, and to change it if necessary.  If their answer isn’t satisfactory, it is perfectly acceptable to ask to see a supervising nurse or doctor.” She then offers tips on how to do this effectively. 
Cornwall also writes that we need to remember that “you are the customer of the medical system and should be treated that way.”  I think this is something we often forget in this country.  If you challenge the medical profession, however, they tend to get defensive and advocating for a loved one becomes difficult.  Nevertheless, doctors are humans and humans make mistakes.  My own father’s cancer was misdiagnosed and there is not a day that goes by that I wish I spoke up.

She also talks about how important it is to remember the needs of your other children to avoid feelings of neglect. 

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is scary and overwhelming.  I strongly encourage anyone who is going through this to seek professional support. Hospice and Grief Counseling helped me and my family tremendously.  Things I Wish I’d Known: Cancer and Kids is a great resource to not only guide you in the right direction but it also serves as a reminder that you and your loved ones are not alone in this battle.

You can purchase this book on Amazon!

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