Being a parent with blood cancer

A blood cancer diagnosis is likely to be a shock not just for you, but your family too, especially if you have children. In this article, our Nurse Advisor, Fiona Heath, gives her tips on explaining blood cancer to your children, and how you can cope with any potential changes in routine.

Approximately one third of cancer patients are diagnosed at an age when they may be caring for children or young adults, and this means entire families are often affected by a cancer diagnosis. Being a parent can make it very difficult to cope with a blood cancer diagnosis.

Talking to your child about your blood cancer diagnosis

Even very young children know when something is wrong. Being open and honest with your child is very important. Even hearing very sad news is better than the worry they feel when they don’t know what is happening.

You can’t stop them from feeling sad, but if you share your feelings and give them information about what is happening, then you can support them. Giving children age-specific, realistic and accurate information about your diagnosis and treatment can help to alleviate their fears. This can also prepare children for the physical changes you may experience, for example: hair loss, fatigue or weight loss. Talking about appearance changes ahead of time will help to reduce the fear when these changes happen. Don’t be afraid to use the word cancer.

Role changes and routines

Caring for children often becomes more difficult when a parent has been diagnosed with a blood cancer. Parental roles often change as one parent may become a caregiver and the ill parent often becomes less available physically and emotionally, having fewer opportunities to interact with and care for their children. This can also place increased demands on the children. In addition, children of blood cancer patients frequently change roles within their family as well, absorbing more responsibility.

Cancer and its treatment are often disruptive to family life and normal routines. As a result of a blood cancer diagnosis, childcare needs may change, and more support may be needed to care for children. You may have been diagnosed with cancer yourself, or be caring for someone who has cancer. Either way, you may be finding it hard to care for your children how you would like to. This can be upsetting, but don’t feel guilty about asking for help. Family and friends are often more than happy to help by taking children to school or with everyday tasks such as shopping. This can give you more energy to do fun things with your children.

Coping with blood cancer as a parent can be extremely upsetting and difficult to accept. It is important to remember that the situation is usually temporary and, following treatment, you will gradually become stronger and be able to do more. It can be difficult to ask for help when you need it, but with the right support you can focus on spending quality time with your children that is likely to be more valuable and relaxing.

Sources of help

Informal support

For some people, support from family and friends is enough to help them care for their children. A family member may be able to do some of the things you usually do. Children often adapt to this and can learn that it’s part of what it means to be a family. Family or friends can do practical things like housework, cooking or shopping. This can give you more time to spend with your children.

Family and friends can often help with day-to-day activities, such as picking up your children from school or nursery, or taking care of them when you have hospital appointments. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, no matter how small the amount of help is. People are usually happy to help and are just waiting to be asked.

It’s a good idea to let your child’s teachers know about your illness. They can then help support your child whilst at school or nursery. There may be specialists that you can talk to, such as a school nurse or child psychologist. They can help support your child with what they might be feeling. They may also be able to offer extended hours or an after-school club.

Social Services

Social services provide a variety of care options and support for children, their families and carers. They will assess your needs and, sometimes, it is possible for them to provide a package of care. A care package is a combination of services put together to meet a person’s assessed needs. Social services work to ensure parents, families or carers have access to the support they need, when they need it.

You can contact your local council’s Family Information Service to get a list of the childcare services available in your area. This will include local childminders, day care nurseries and out-of-school care.

Key points

  • Talk to your child about feelings and how important it is to express them. Express your own feelings too.
  • It’s important to ask for help when you need it.
  • Focus on quality family time.
  • Most children adapt surprisingly well to changes in family routine. They often learn that being part of a family means asking for and giving help when it’s needed.

 

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