The day your child is diagnosed with cancer is burned into your mind forever. You remember what you were wearing and where you were standing. You remember strange details, like the color of your doctors’ eyes as they tell you you’re in the exact right place to get your baby healthy. And you will never, in your entire life, forget the date.
The 5-year-anniversary of my son, Cooper’s, leukemia diagnosis was February 8, 2017. As I think of how it felt to be devastated by the unspeakable news my son had childhood cancer, my heart aches for all the moms in the United States who will hear that same news today. I wish with all my heart I could tell them:
1. Take One Day At A Time.
When the future torments you like a demon, force yourself back to the present. Focus on what you need to do right now to help your child get through the day. Concentrate on what the doctors told you is the next step, and don’t let yourself look past that for right now.
2. Accept The Help Of Family And Friends.
I know it can be hard to accept help, but do it anyway. It will free you up to focus on your sick child. And you aren’t just taking from people when you let them help you. You are actually making it easier on them too, because people want to feel like they are doing something, anything, to help when a child is sick.
This may sound strange, but when someone offers to help with something specific, like picking up your kids from school, write down her name and what she offered to do. In a stressful moment, when you actually need her help, your mind will go blank with who offered.
We learned this the hard way when Cooper ended up in the hospital in the middle of the day. The usual people who picked up our other son from school couldn’t do it, and even though we knew several other people had offered to help, we couldn’t think of even one.
3. Lean Into—Not Away From—Your Spouse, Partner, Or Whoever Helps You Take Care Of Your Kids.
Childhood cancer is incredibly stressful on a relationship. There will, no doubt, be fights and epic battles of will. But, at the end of the day, the person who loves your child as much as you do is the only one in the world who knows exactly what you are going through.
So keep talking to each other, even when you’re seeing red and so exhausted you can’t keep your eyes open. You might be tempted to think you’ve got bigger things to worry about than a relationship, but this is a big thing. When your child feels like everything in his life is shaky and unstable, he can find comfort in seeing that the people who are caring for him are unified and solid.
4. Ask All The Stupid Questions You Want About Childhood Cancer—As Many Times As Needed.
You will be bombarded with a lot of new, confusing information about childhood cancer. It can be overwhelming. The best way to start feeling like you have at least some understanding of what’s going on is to ask questions—lots of them.
As you’re wrapping your head around everything, questions might pop up as you sit in the room, try to sleep, or take a shower. Write them down, so you don’t forget to ask your child’s physician. When the physician answers your questions, write down the answers, so you can look back later when you forget what they said.
You may need to ask some questions again and again until you start to truly understand (or believe) the answers. That’s okay. One of the many things I love about Children’s oncologists is that they will answer a question over and over without trying to make you feel stupid.
5. Be Kind To Yourself.
Childhood cancer will bring out the best in you. You’re about to learn some incredible things about yourself, including how much stronger you are than you ever imagined.
Unfortunately, with all the stress and lack of sleep, childhood cancer can also bring out the worst in you. There’s a chance you will say or do things you wouldn’t normally. You might find yourself wishing you could handle everything better, and criticizing or judging yourself when you don’t.
It’s been five years since my son was diagnosed with leukemia. In many ways, it feels like an entire lifetime ago. As I look back at that fateful day, my heart aches for our family, and it aches for yours too.
I’m so sorry you have to go through this. Nothing can make you feel better when your child is suffering, but please know that you are not alone. You are surrounded by a tribe of parents who have fought the same battle, and we feel your pain deeply, even if we don’t know you personally. We are thinking about you every day, and we are praying for your family.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.