There are many kinds of families today. Single-parent families and blended families are common. There also might be trusted adults other than parents who are part of the daily lives of children, serving in parent and caregiver roles. A trusted adult who is involved in the daily life of the child with cancer (or the child’s siblings) can be greatly affected by the child’s cancer, too, and may be key to the family’s coping with it. When we use the word parent, it may also refer to one of these caregivers.
When a child or teen is diagnosed with cancer it’s a blow to the parents, siblings, and others who love them. The cancer creates a crisis in the life of each family member. Normal daily life is changed. Parents must be away from work. Siblings might need to be cared for by relatives or neighbors. The ill child (the patient) becomes the major focus of family time and attention.
Parents should be given detailed information about the diagnosis and treatment. They need to be told about the short- and long-term effects of treatment. They may have to think about things like the risk of heart or lung damage, second cancers, or fertility problems that their child may someday face. They will have to make tough decisions and must understand the treatment plan well enough to feel right about giving permission for tests and procedures. They have to sign treatment consent forms and make important decisions about what’s best for their child. This is a lot to ask.
To add to the stress, all of this happens in a very short time. In the first days and weeks after diagnosis, parents who have been through it describe feeling as if they are on an emotional roller coaster, or in a bad dream. Just about all parents going through this difficult time seem to have the same feelings. But what parents say or do to express these feelings differs. How they handle their emotions depends on their own life experiences, cultural differences, and their personal coping styles when faced with major stress.