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Childhood cancer: A father's perspective

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Childhood cancer: A father’s perspective

Depending on their role, each person in a family is affected by childhood cancer differently. This article outlines some of the common experiences dads can face during their child’s cancer experience.

Some dads may have several children, some young and some in their teenage years, while other Dad’s may be new to their fatherhood journey and may never have even thought about children with cancer. Either way, the initial feelings of stress, anger, guilt, and anxiety become all too real when they find out that their child has cancer.

When a child is diagnosed

Parents and caregivers may have to decide suddenly which parent will stay at the hospital and which one will take care of things at home. Oftentimes, mum will reduce her hours or quit work to stay in the hospital full time, while dad takes care of the household and becomes the sole provider.

Dad’s sense of responsibility may intensify after diagnosis, and he may feel he has to be the strength in the family, pushing aside his emotions. Some of the thoughts which may be going through his mind might be:

  • How can I best support my partner and child?
  • How can I juggle work and home life with our kids?
  • How can I explain the cancer experience to my kids when I don’t understand it all yet?

In the beginning it may be hard for dad to accept he needs help, because he may feel he has to protect and support everyone around him. He may think his mental and emotional needs aren’t important and put his needs last.

“we both had to give up working upon our child’s diagnosis and this adds significant stress to an already very stressful situation.

During treatment

During treatment can be an incredibly challenging time for dad because he is often separated from his partner and his child for long periods of time. He may feel guilty about not being able to see his sick child as often as he’d like or may be facing challenges from juggling full time work while trying to maintain some kind of normalcy at home.

He may feel isolated and try to deal with problems by himself. Sometimes, the challenges both parents are facing can lead to issues within their own relationship. Being at home often means that dad is not as up to date with the details of his child’s treatment and is informed of what is happening with his child from afar.

He will usually get second-hand updates from his partner, or if he is experiencing a relationship breakdown, he may not receive any information at all.

“It was difficult to leave pride at the door when discussing our family’s needs. Often, we told people we were okay, when in fact we weren’t.”

Returning home

Returning home can bring joy with the hope to return to some sort of normalcy, though there can be some challenges for the family as they find their new normal.

Children who are outpatients need ongoing high-level care and the fear parents can feel over their child becoming sick again is very real.  

As an outpatient, trips back and forth from the hospital are normal, so it may be difficult for dad to adjust to having his partner and his child constantly going back and forth.

Having his sick child and partner back at home can cause issues with the routines that dad has made while they have been away.

Juggling other kids may also become a challenge, as they may want to play with their sibling and not completely understand the fragility of the situation, so Dad may need to help his partner manage the behaviour of his other children while his partner focuses on their child’s medical needs.

He may find his partner needs time adjusting to the home environment, especially after their own experiences in the hospital. Life may not go back to what it was pre-cancer.

When treatment ends

There isn’t a guidebook to how life should be when treatment ends, and Dad may feel a bit lost or have mixed emotions as to how to move forward with his family.

The joy and relief of treatment ending may come with the uncertainty of what the future holds. He may find it hard to open up and talk about how he’s feeling. The cancer experience may change his perception of himself as a father.

He may notice the relationship between him, and his partner has changed. Cancer can add stress to a relationship, the increased responsibilities of both parents along with lack of communication due to large amount of time spent apart can take a toll.

Dad may connect with his child differently to what Mum does. He may play more and try to keep his child in high spirits by bringing as much normalcy into the home as he can.

Dad may carry the emotional weight of his child’s cancer because the impacts of cancer don’t cease when it goes away. His strength and resilience are evident as he continues to navigate the new chapter of his family’s life.

We hope that this article can act as a base for you to understand what a father may experience so you can provide more meaningful and personalised care for him and his family. Please remember that Redkite is here to support you as you care for a family facing childhood cancer. You can contact us here.


To find out more from the families themselves, you can read their stories here

View stories

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