Learning to Cope!

From the moment a parent leaves the hospital with a precious baby bundled in his or her arms, an alarm sounds in the brain to protect the child at any cost. Parents habitually focus nearly all of their energy into the lives of their children and their children’s futures. One main concentration of any parent is the safety of their child or children. From a child’s infancy, parents baby proof their homes, place medicine high above the counter in locked cupboards and assure every vaccination is received on time. As children grow, parents focus on teaching their preschoolers about strangers who may want to harm them, their grade school children the importance of looking both ways before crossing any street and their teenagers the complications of unprotected sex. For many, these perils will be among the worst they will have to face as parents; but what happens when a parent follows every rule and suggestion from his or her doctor only to find their child in danger of losing their life to cancer? Sometimes being the best at keeping their children safe isn’t enough to keep their children healthy. The emotional state of the caregiver will change with a diagnosis of cancer, as it will with any catastrophic event.

What Parents Say when their Children go through cancer treatments In research we have conducted here at Monty’s Corner, it is evident that parents of children with cancer suffer many emotional challenges while attempting to be the foundation their children can lean upon. Amid many community board entries, several frequently found emotions consistently appeared. Worry emerges most often as an emotion parents face when their children are diagnosed with cancer. The focus of the parents worry ranged from children having to deal with side effects of their treatment, such as losing hair and hip pain, to the possibility of their children relapsing after a time of remission. Of the parents studied, nearly 45% exhibited signs of worry. Following worry, another lead emotion felt by approximately 15% of parents was frustration. The frustration felt by these parents involved their children’s hospital care being less than adequate, the unpleasant side effects medication caused and even birthdays spent in cancer wards away from friends and family. In smaller numbers, parents at times expressed feelings of hopefulness and even guilt. One mother expressed her feelings of guilt because of formula feeding her child when he was an infant rather than breastfeeding him.

It is important to point out that these feelings and any others a parent may feel as a caregiver to a child with cancer are completely normal. While a parent may feel worried or frustrated under the stress of caring for an ill child, it is imperative to remember to address feelings as soon as possible to avoid a negative atmosphere for the child and family. In New Scientist’s article Stressed Parent’s Equal’s Sick Kids, March 18, 2008, a study conducted by the University Rochester, New York, found by observing both parents reporting high emotional stress and those reporting low emotional stress, that a child’s immune system breaks down if his or her parents show signs of high periods of stress. During a three-year observation, the parents were assessed every six months for stress. Those parents exhibiting high levels of stress had children with more infections and illness.

Through research we know that keeping emotional stability for a normal growing child is important, and may help keep these children healthy. Children suffering from cancer already have a compromised immune system. Keeping their lives as healthy as possible is especially important.

Children suffering from cancer need their parents’ support and comfort. Avoiding negative stress is essential. The duty of parents of children with cancer is to keep their children safe, even from the worries and frustrations the parents may be suffering themselves.

Learning to cope with high stress may lead to a healthier child. Some coping strategies suggested by Mark Rowh from Career World are:

  • Know the Signs of Stress
  • Take a personal Timeout
  • Adjust Your Attitude
  • Do Something You Love
  • Talk it out

It is important to know when stress occurs so when it happens the parent can take a step back and adjust his or her attitude, even if he or she needs to talk to someone to learn how to deal with stress. While taking a time out, the parent should try to engage in something he or she loves, or loved before his or her child were struck with cancer. By having a hobby, a parent will have a way to escape his or her stress in a healthy way. Managing emotions and finding time to deal with stress will be difficult, but knowing that these coping strategies may keep a beloved child healthier during cancer treatment may make the accomplishment of learning to manage negative stress more rewarding in the end. Remember that stress is a normal factor in life and with a little practice it can be managed making both parent’s and child’s lives happier and healthier.






Outside Resources

Stressed Parent’s Equal’s Sick Kids. New Scientist [serial online]. March 22, 2008;197(2648):18. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 24, 2011

Rowh M. Stress Busters!. Career World [serial online]. April 2005;33(6):12-15. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 29, 2011.