Being told your child has cancer is beyond difficult. Parents have shared they felt overwhelmed, confused and devastated in the first days and weeks after their child’s diagnosis. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it is a crisis for the entire family. Every family member is affected, from the youngest to the oldest. A diagnosis of cancer changes the family’s dynamic and throws a wrench into everyone’s day-to-day schedule. So after a family is told the horrific news that their child has cancer, then what?
Your child’s treatment team has many specialists who will care for the physical and emotional needs of your child. They will also help support your family during this difficult time. When your child is diagnosed, family, neighbors, church families and others are often at the ready to give support and help. Many families often appoint a person to be the gatekeeper and give those many friends jobs, such as meal assistance, transportation to and from appointments, child care, etc. Social workers are professionals who talk with people and their families about emotional and physical needs and help to find them support services.
More children than ever before survive childhood cancer. Today, more than 80 percent of children and adolescents who are diagnosed with cancer survive for at least five years after their diagnosis. Most children with cancer receive treatment at places that specialize in treating cancer in children—such as a children’s hospital, university medical center or cancer center. Hospitals that have experts in treating children with cancer are usually member institutions of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) which is the world’s largest organization devoted to clinical research to improve the care and treatment of children and adolescents with cancer.
Some parents decide to get a second opinion to confirm their child’s diagnosis. If you choose to get a second opinion, talk with the doctor who provided you with your child’s initial diagnosis because you will need to get information such as slides, samples or reports from the hospital where the biopsy was done to give to the second doctor. It’s common to get a second opinion and most doctors welcome another physician’s views.
Knowledge is power. There are many people and resources available to help you learn about the type of cancer your child has, how it’s treated and what to expect. If you get information online, make sure the source is credible. Although many parents look for information online, some are more comfortable getting information from the doctor and feel underqualified to do their own research. The most important elements are to have information that is accurate and understandable. We have created an online resource library with credible, reliable resources for families with children who have cancer. There is a resource titled Beyond Diagnosis you can access via our website.
Speaking with your child(ren)
YOU know your child best. You know what makes your child laugh and you know what upsets your child. Your child depends on you for helpful, accurate and truthful information. Speak calmly and directly with your child during this frightening time. You can filter the medical information for their age and understanding. Honesty builds trust and, throughout the entire process, your child needs to trust you are sharing the information they need and/or want to know. Tell your child about the illness and what to expect. This will help your child trust you and the health care team. There are professionals on your child’s health care team who can help you. Child life specialists are health care professionals who are trained in the developmental and psychological needs of children and they can help your child understand and cope with medical issues.
Learn more about Texas Children's Cancer Center.