When pediatric leukemia comes barreling into your family, it can be stressful and frightening, and take an enormous emotional toll that impacts the entire household, close family, and friends. As a parent, you instinctively want to protect your children, fix whatever ails them, and solve any problem that threatens to get in their way. In the face of cancer, however, you may feel powerless.
These five tips offer ways to help you cope with the emotional toll of parenting a child with leukemia.
For the family and loved ones of a child with leukemia, coping with the diagnosis can be a steep learning curve. Try to be patient with yourself and everyone else. As a parent, recognize that your child’s leukemia diagnosis affects close friends and family too, and everyone will respond differently, from anger, to grief, to sadness and many other emotions. There’s no one right way or script for coming to terms with the changes. Give yourself, your family, and your child time to adjust to the leukemia diagnosis. Remember: it’s okay to not be okay every day.
It's not uncommon to internalize news of a diagnosis and find ways to blame yourself or feel guilty. But your child’s leukemia is simply not your fault. Leukemia in children is not strongly associated with environmental or lifestyle risk factors. There isn't anything you could have done differently or better, as there is no way to prevent leukemia in children.
Communicating well allows you to express yourself and help others understand your limits and needs as well as what your child is experiencing. As a caregiver, and as a parent, you have a huge influence on how your child deals with their illness. Good communication also models for your child how to express their needs and feelings and how to advocate for themselves.
Your parenting instinct and love for your child may drive you to try to help them in all ways possible, putting the well-being of your child with leukemia above your own well-being. That fact is, you're a better caregiver if you're rested and healthy. Take time away for yourself, whether it's taking a few minutes to journal or listen to music or enlisting the help of friends and family to accomplish tasks around the house. Take care of yourself; listen to what your body is telling you — caregiver stress is very real.
Just as you seek specialized, medical support for your child’s leukemia, you may need to get support — particularly emotional support — for yourself and other family members. Consider seeing a therapist, either alone or as a family. You might be surprised how supportive your family members and friends are. Don’t be afraid to ask other parents, family members, friends, or neighbors for help, and be specific about the type of support you need so they can help you effectively.
Nobody can do it all alone. The good news: nobody expects you to do it all alone. There are many organizations that offer support to children and families facing leukemia and other cancers. They can lend you much-needed support, share insider tips, and offer guidance from an insider perspective.