How to cope with a child who has cancer

Childhood cancer can be especially taxing. To help you make it through, we’ve put together a list of coping strategies you can use.

05 September 2019
by Lucienne Haupt

A childhood cancer diagnosis can be especially devastating because a child’s formative years ought to be their most carefree. The effects of childhood cancer, of course, affect more than just the children who suffer from it. Parents and caregivers have to manage the many stressors the disease entails, from treatment bills, to altered living conditions, anxiety and the like. To help you navigate this particularly challenging time we’ve put together a list of strategies to deal with the effects of a childhood cancer diagnosis.

Physical strategies

In the wake of a cancer diagnosis you often lose sight of the small things that may formerly have given you the boost you needed to get through a normal day. Managing cancer, especially in a once cheerful, active child, is anything but normal. Oftentimes, the first thing to be impacted is your sleeping pattern.

One of the best strategies to use is to plan each day well in advance, including setting and keeping a regular bedtime. Adequate, quality sleep will ensure you are able to meet each day’s challenges and think more clearly about those challenges than not.

Part of a balanced physical strategy also includes making time to exercise. Whether you do something as simple as stretching for five minutes or go for a short jog if your day permits, exercise will help to regulate your emotional state by releasing feel-good hormones into your body and relieve pent up stress.

Mental strategies

Notwithstanding the obvious effects sufficient exercise and quality sleep offer, the greatest obstacle that parents and caregivers face is in dealing with the mental toll cancer exacts. Anger, resentment, guilt, helplessness, apathy, blame and more exhaust your mental reserves and expend energy that you need to manage your day-to-day activities, but getting a handle on them is much easier said than done.

As a start, consider counselling offered by health or religious institutions as a means of working through your thoughts and emotions. Down days and a negative outlook are understandable and cannot readily be helped, but what does help is to have an outlet where you can express such thoughts and emotions as a first step to managing them in a healthy way.

Relational strategies

Supporting a child with cancer leaves you with little time or concern to socialise. You may go weeks without leaving home and may not have an opportunity to unwind. Concerned friends and family, though having them around more often than not may overwhelm you, offer the kind of practical support you need to stay afloat by doing things like bringing around meals, listening to you vent, and sometimes just offering you a hug and being present.

Joining a support group would also be worthwhile since you’d be able to navigate your child’s illness with people who have first-hand experience dealing with such a challenging disease.

The toll childhood cancer exacts can be high, but there is help and hope for navigating the worst of its effects. Should you or friends and family be caught in the throes of a recent diagnosis and need help, contact the Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa on 086 111 3500.