Childhood cancer is a rare occurrence. The shock of hearing ‘your child has cancer’ can feel suddenly overwhelming, and completely turns life upside down.
Although each family’s experience will be different, the strong emotions it causes – including fear, stress, overwhelm – are felt by most. The rollercoaster of emotions you may be feeling is normal and valid. Some families have shared, “you never know where the next turn is going to take you.”
Some important things to remember throughout the cancer experience:
It’s normal to feel alone and vulnerable
Many parents tell us how isolating childhood cancer can be. Life suddenly looks a lot different for your family, and it can be difficult for those around you to fully understand what you’re going through. Remember there are people and organisations here to support you. Parents have told us of the valuable connections they have made on the ward, at support groups or from talking to trusted professionals.
Vulnerability is defined as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure” (Brene Brown). Redkite social workers have the skills to walk alongside families in these vulnerable times to support and listen to your concerns around the cancer experience.
It’s ok if you don’t know what you need
Childhood cancer can cause constant change in a family’s life, which may feel difficult to keep up with and hard to understand. For example, developing a treatment plan can be complex and may not always follow a linear path, which can lead to uncertainty. If you are so focused on what’s happening around you that you’re not sure what you need, that’s ok. It can be helpful at these times to talk about your thoughts and feelings with others to help you unload some of that mental “heaviness”.
Talking to Redkite social workers who specialise in childhood cancer was so essential to me. It was good to be able to get it all out, get it off your chest, like a weight had been lifted.
You don’t have to be the strong one all the time
Sometimes people may comment how strong or how brave you are. But sometimes it is also okay to not be ‘okay.’ Tears, frustration, anger, annoyance, feeling scared and anxious are all normal reactions when you hear that your child has cancer.
“As a dad I did feel I needed to access the counselling services. I remember earlier on talking to the counsellors and feeling like somebody, feeling valuable. I do think personal and couples counselling is required, to ensure individually and together, a family can cope and manage the stressful situation ahead of them.” – Pat
It’s ok to lean on others
There’s an old saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ During these uncertain times, finding your ‘village’ or group of family and/or friends to walk alongside may be easy to arrange, but at other times, it might also feel like you are burdening those same people. Each family’s cancer journey is different and unique. The decision to seek or accept support is completely up to you and your individual circumstances.
“There was someone there listening when I needed to talk to someone, somebody outside of the family situation so I feel like I wasn’t burdening family, especially my wife or my sister with my thoughts and feelings, or what I was going through. It is always hard to open up and be vulnerable to friends and family.” – Pat
It’s important to take care of yourself
Caring for your child also requires you as a parent or carer to look after your overall health and well-being. Practicing self-care means you’re better equipped to provide the support they need.
“My mental health and emotional health were definitely challenged, especially during uncertainty of what would happen to [my daughter] Summer.”- Theresa.
Childhood cancer is often a challenging time for a family’s mental health. Recognising the long-lasting effects of these challenges, Redkite supports families throughout the cancer experience, helping adults and children navigate the emotional aspects of cancer, fostering resilience and well-being.