When a child is diagnosed with cancer, parents often want to help, but feel unsure of how to do that. There are actually some very simple—but powerful—steps they can take at all stages of treatment.
Here’s what parents of children with cancer can do to help the treatment process go as smoothly and effectively as possible.
Before Treatment: Ask Questions
I think the biggest thing parents can do before treatment starts is ask questions. It’s okay to let us know if there are things you don’t understand. In fact, we want to know if there are areas that are unclear to you, so that we can help keep everyone on the same page.
We try to cover all of the important topics before treatment begins. But everybody learns at a different pace. And it’s understandable that parents might not remember everything that’s being said during that initial stressful time.
So, being willing to ask questions is very helpful for everyone.
Communication: The Gold Star Way To Help Your Child’s Physician
The biggest way that parents can help is by communicating with us. Every family is different. Some people might struggle with certain issues that other parents don’t.
We don’t want to make any assumptions about individual families. If you don’t tell us that something is an issue, sometimes, we just don’t know.
If you’re struggling with something—anything—we’d like for you to tell us. If we can’t offer help, we can probably point you to someone who can.
Also, we have someone on call 24 hours a day in case there are any concerns. We have a list of issues that parents should call about right away, even if it’s the weekend or the middle of the night.
During Treatment: Maintain Routines
When a child is in the hospital, we encourage parents to continue with their normal parenting as much as they can. This means trying to maintain the same ground rules and routines that they have at home, if possible. If bedtime is at 8 p.m., then keep that bedtime when the child is in the hospital as well.
There are ways for them be hands-on in their child’s care, as well. For instance, parents can ask their child’s nurse if they can give the medicine. And Child Life can help with creative ideas to maintain a routine when you aren’t at home.
The reason we want parents to stay involved and maintain as much normalcy as possible is because some families have a hard time transitioning back to their everyday lives at home again later on.
So, we encourage parents to continue with their usual parenting. Because children need consistency, it can also be comforting for them to see that the family structure is still the same, even though they’re in the hospital.
After Treatment: Continue Communicating
Long-term follow-up care is part of life for children with cancer. That’s why we see patients for quite a while after treatment has ended.
As obvious as this might sound, keeping up with those follow-up appointments matters. Once treatment has ended and families want to move forward with their lives, it can be easy to occasionally forget about an appointment or put it off for a bit.
But these appointments are valuable. They can help detect if there is a recurrence or any late effects of treatment.
Parents can help by continuing to communicate any issues or concerns to us at all points in their journey—including after treatment has ended.