Cancer or carcinoma (Ca) is considered by many people as a health condition that is difficult to deal with. Adults and children alike may have it. Having a diagnosis of Ca is not easy for patients, especially in young people, so that even the parents who care for them have a hard time.
If your child is diagnosed with the big C, you may initially feel scared, frustrated, sad, guilty, or even angry. However, as an adult who should be more responsible, negative emotions must be addressed for better coping for you and your daughter or son. Realize that you are not alone in this fight; Ca management is usually done by a team. You may gather the support and expertise of family, friends and specialists in helping your child. Also, do not forget that knowing more about your child’s condition and treatment will translate to more power over the problem so to speak. It is important to ask your clarifications from specialists, join a support group and read up from reliable resources.
No two C’s are alike
Ca is the uncontrolled abnormal behavior of body cells that result in formation of groups of abnormal cells seen as lumps. The lumps may cause dysfunction in the organs where they proliferate; they may also invade organs other than where they originated. Thus, Ca may be considered as a group of diseases that may affect many body parts. The spread of Ca from one part of the body to another is known as metastasis. Other terms that may be helpful for parents to remember are as follows:
Prognosis – refers to the chance that a person with Ca will get better from successful treatment
Second opinion – the opinion from another doctor, other than that of the physician who first gave the diagnosis of Ca; this is ideally from a specialist of the type of cancer that the patient has or a oncologic surgeon
Stage/Risk group/Grade – terms used to describe the severity of Ca in a patient that may determine the type of treatment to be given
Chemotherapy – Ca treatment with drugs or chemotherapeutic agents
Remission – the period when symptoms of a condition become less severe
Oncologist – the physician specializing in the diagnosis and management of Ca
Parents may help their children achieve the following goals, despite the big C:
-Find out more about the Ca, its treatment and what to expect
-Deal with associated pain and (sometimes complicated) procedures
-Manage feelings and obtain social support
-Establish a sense of control over the situation
-Remember that they are loved, supported, and surrounded by people who care about them.
Taking care of self is also priority
Initial emotions of parents will change over time. From denial, shock, feelings will proceed to guilt, sadness, and eventually anger. Parents could be angry or frustrated at other people who cannot offer them support or understanding for their situation. Husbands and wives may also fight, especially if they employ different coping mechanisms for the family crises. If you’re a parent of a sick child, it is important to realize the need to also take care of yourself. You need to be strong for your child, when he or she is not. Bear in mind that you can only help your child, when you help yourself by also being open to the assistance of other family members, friends and Ca specialists (who are part of your child’s management team).
Doctors’ visits are crucial and may be optimized if parents prepare for what to do before, during and after the encounters. Parents may jot down important symptoms that arise and questions that need clarification, so that they could be discussed thoroughly. During visits, parents should encourage their child to express their concerns; and if the child is not able, readily voice it out themselves. Important food and activity modifications for the child may be better enforced if parents help set the environment for them. Dr. Alcasabas further stressed that food safety, and infection prevention measures: like not going to malls, wearing masks, and frequent hand washing or alcohol gel use, should be encouraged by parents. Moreover, increase in water and fiber intake may help curb effects of chemotherapy.
Despite doctors’ appointments, chemotherapy or surgical treatment schedules, parents should also take time to talk to their children. Treatment sessions and their effects may be complex for a young person to understand, but are easier to bear if the patient has adults who support him or her. A parent may help provide distractions to painful procedures, by encouraging meditation (for teenage patients) or bringing toys (for younger children). Advocating for a child’s needs must also be one of the priorities. Pain medications must be sought, in the face of intolerable aches. It is also the responsibility of parents to explain to the people around a sick child, their son or daughter’s condition, and enjoin concern and support
Maintaining the atmosphere of care
Management of Ca is long-term, if not lifelong. As parents, you need to explain to your child what changes will happen. Use the simplest and most honest form possible, because that is what they will handle better. Care and concern may vary depending on the prognosis of your child’s Ca.
When on remission, children with Ca may appear to be healthy and almost just like any other kid their age. But diet restrictions and modifications in activity must still be maintained to avoid a recurrence of the big C. School age children may continue attending class and play with other kids, as long as proper disinfection is ensured. Socialization is good, not only for the child, but for parents who seek respite too.
However, when the illness is terminal, death and its consequences should be discussed. According to Dr. Alcasabas, the fact of death should not be concealed from the child or teenager. “The children or teenager should know, but the proper timing is important. Teenagers often react to the knowledge and prognosis of their cancer with fear, anxiety and depression. They need love and assurance from the doctors, medical team and family. They will gather strength from their parents. So if their parents are similarly anxious and depressed, it may be best to delay (but not prevent) disclosure until they have accepted the situation and the feelings of shock and helplessness have settled.”, says Dr. Alcasabas.
The big C or Ca may be one of the biggest challenges that your family must face, but with evidence-based knowledge, genuine support groups and good compliance to management, the experience will be a sure way to strengthen the bond among family members. At the end of the day, the strength of the human spirit will shine through amidst the face of hardship.