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News & media

Childhood cancer & COVID-19 cause peak parental stress

A recent survey of parents and carers receiving support from leading childhood cancer support charity Redkite, found nearly two thirds rated their stress as high.

As the coronavirus pandemic triggers greater isolation measures, thousands of children with cancer and their families have been forgotten.

As the country wakes up from COVID-19 “hibernation”, the nightmare is far from over for some. A recent survey of parents and carers of children with cancer receiving support from leading childhood cancer support charity Redkite, found that nearly two thirds (64%) rated their stress as high – seven or more out of 10.

Their stress is being driven by the fear their child will become a casualty of the pandemic, with 77% saying they were still worried their child could contract the virus.

Leah Wright, a mother-of-three from Wodonga, is just one parent worried people’s increasing disregard for social distancing is going to endanger her daughter’s life. Since December, she has been in Melbourne, caring for her six-year-old daughter, Hailey who has acute myeloid leukaemia.

Leah said she was “completely paranoid” about the safety and wellbeing of her immunocompromised daughter, who recently had a bone marrow transplant, and other people should be aware of that too.

“The stress levels are high enough going through cancer, let alone dealing with a pandemic. We think it’s is over, but it’s not,” Leah said.

“I’m still very reluctant to expose Hailey to much of anything. She is still in a very high-risk phase of her treatment because she just doesn’t have an immune system. She is definitely not out of the woods yet.

“We went for a walk just up to the local shop. I always have a hold of her the whole time and I’m pulling her away from people and making sure she’s not touching things. She is always wearing a mask. We always have hand sanitiser with us. When she does touch something, I’m cleaning her hands constantly,” Leah said.

It’s not just the fear for their children that is driving the stress – 68% of parents and carers surveyed by Redkite were also worried about being infected themselves.

“I get paranoid about catching Coronavirus because if I catch it, she will definitely catch it, and that just doesn’t bear thinking about,” she said.

Leah moved Hailey from Wodonga to Melbourne in December for Hailey’s cancer treatment and when the pandemic hit in March, they were cut off from the rest of the family. There was no way her partner Steven, Hailey’s twin brother William, and seven-month-old sister Rylee could break the lockdown and make the four-hour drive. The fear of infection is never far from Leah’s mind.

“I feel like there’s a ‘Well, I can be here’ cavalier attitude. Without having been affected by COVID-19 or having an immunocompromised child, social distancing is hard for most people to grasp. We hear about it all over the news: social distancing, social distancing, social distancing, but COVID-19 is not over for us,” she said.

Redkite’s CEO Ms Monique Keighery backed Leah’s plea for others to look out for each other as restrictions lift.

“Our research shows that parents of children with cancer are still overwhelmed with concern about COVID-19 and its potential impacts on their sick child and their whole family.

Our research also shows that children with cancer have high stress levels at this time and, along with their siblings, they are anxious about going out and getting sick.

Monique keighery

“As restrictions ease, we all still need to be vigilant about safe social distancing, washing our hands, and staying at home if we feel unwell. The life of a young child with cancer is still at risk,” Ms Keighery said.

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