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Cancer is a Family Affair

When one family member has cancer, the whole family is affected. When that patient is a parent and feeling overwhelmed with a myriad of decisions and emotions, he or she may try to shield the children from the situation. However, providing your children with open and honest information from the beginning of the diagnosis will lead to feelings of trust, control and involvement. Child experts recommend that children be included in any illnesses that affect the family, yet parents are often at a loss to know exactly what to do. Below are some guidelines to help you during this difficult time.

Establish open communication
· Be truthful, open and direct with information. This will help to develop trust and reduce fear in your children.
· Encourage children to come to you with questions. Let them know that if you are unable to answer at the time, you will get back to them.

Realize there is no “right way”
· Recognize that children respond in many different ways to a parent’s illness. Some may want to stay close and care for the parent; others may need to spend more time with their friends. Allow for individual differences in your children.

Understand developmental needs
· Realize that children engage in “magical thinking.” They often believe the world revolves around them and that they can make things happen. Be sure to tell them that nothing they did caused the cancer.
· Children’s behavior gives clues to their feelings. They often act out their feelings rather than find words for them. Parents and children can and do learn to cope with cancer and its treatments.
· Accept that children’s behavior may regress as children often revert to younger behavior during times of stress. Try to respond in a supportive way.

Balance care and concern
· Try to maintain some routine and structure at home. Give children opportunities to perform age-appropriate caregiving tasks each day.
· Children often worry that they may “catch” the cancer. Reassure them that cancer is not contagious.
· Communicating with schoolteachers about the diagnosis can help them better support your children. For some children, it’s helpful to know there is an adult at school they can go to if they are having a difficult time.

Take care of yourself
· Let children see you express your feelings; it’s okay for them to see you cry. Explain how you are feeling and show them you can cope. Emphasize that it is not their responsibility to help you feel better.
· Take time for yourself! Parents are more effective when they take care of their own needs. Make a list of things you enjoy and invest time in you.