Caregiver tips for parents and carers of a child with cancer
By Carmen Lau
When a child has cancer, parents and carers often feel shocked and overwhelmed after their child’s diagnosis. They may need to care for not only their sick child but also their other children, family members or relatives.
For parents and carers, accepting help and taking care of yourself during this hard time is important, because without support and self-care you won’t be able to take care of others. Following our article on caregiving tips, this article provides more tips for parents and carers of a child with cancer.
Accept help from family, friends and other support networks
Family and friends will want to help as you care for your child with cancer. Asking for help and accepting help may feel hard at times, but it can help make this time easier for you, your child and your family.
People who offer help may not know what to do for parents and carers of a child with cancer. Let them know how they can help, whether that’s helping with the cooking, cleaning, shopping, washing or looking after your other children. Always be clear about what you need and don’t feel guilty if those needs change over time.
Friends and relatives will want to know how things are going, but answering each person and repeating information can be exhausting for some parents and carers. You could ask someone close to you to update your family and friends on your behalf. You could also provide updates through private social media groups or email, or ask a friend or relative to do this for you.
Your child’s health care team will want to help you, your child and your family too. Let them know how you and your family feel and ask for help. Don’t be scared to ask questions, as there are no questions that are too small or silly.
Keep your child engaged with friends, family and school
Children can be very resilient during a serious illness and even a child with cancer will want to play and participate in usual activities. Helping your child to lead as normal and happy a life as possible during their cancer treatment can help provide comfort and make them feel optimistic.
If your child feels well enough, you could encourage them to go to school or day care, or participate in playtimes, social events and activities. These can help your child feel connected with their friends, classmates and teachers, and to continue their learning where possible. Other ways that your child could stay engaged with school include participating virtually in classroom activities, inviting school friends to send letters to them, and arranging visits from friends and classmates.
If you are worried that going to school or playing with other children may be risky for your child, speak to your child’s heath care team who can give you advice about any activities to avoid or risk factors to watch for. You should also share this information with your child’s teachers to keep them informed.
If you have other children, make sure you spend time talking with them about what’s happening and how they feel, as this will likely be a scary time for them too. Try to maintain their normal routines and activities, and find opportunities for them to spend time with their sibling by themselves. You can also ask them to help out if they’d like, but don’t expect too much from them during this hard time.
Don’t feel guilty about taking some time out for yourself
Parents and carers of a child with cancer need to look after their own physical and mental health, so they can in turn provide care to others. As well as eating and sleeping well, it’s important that you stay socially connected with friends and family. Sharing openly with others about what is happening may also help. You might want to seek professional help by speaking to a counsellor or psychologist.
At times, you may feel like what is ahead of you and your family seems very frightening and overwhelming, and wonder if you’re capable of getting through everything. Feeling this way is completely normal. Remember to take things one step at a time and that you can always reach out to others for help.
Kodi’s Paw-a-Thon aims to raise funds for The Royal Children ’s Hospital and Australian Animal Cancer Foundation