It wasn’t very long into writing and sharing about breast cancer on my blog when I started hearing from the children. They would tell me about how their mothers or grandmothers had breast cancer and they didn’t know what to do or say or think. Most often, they were so scared because they didn’t know whether their loved one was going to live or die. They didn’t understand what was going on and had no idea where to turn for help because the adults in their lives were all involved in the treatment and care of the patient and they were being ignored.
“Feeling like they count and knowing that someone cares about how they feel can make all of the difference in the world.”Barbara Jacoby
I understand. There is so much going on that a person can easily become overwhelmed with the day-to-day needs and care of the patient and a lot of other things go by the wayside and sadly that often includes taking the time and making the effort to consider the children. Most often, this is not a conscious choice but rather something that parents don’t understand themselves and therefore can’t begin to understand what and how much should be shared with their children.
I guess there are really no pat answers as each child is different from the other. Some children can be addressed and information can be provided and they can process it based upon an intellectual approach that the child may assume. Other children may be so emotional that not much real information can be given to them unless they can be guaranteed that their loved one is not going to die. That is the only thing that they want to know and the only thing that they will ever hear. The other important factor is the age of the child. What is shared with a 5-year-old is not the same information that may be provided to a 12-year-old. Information needs to be tailored to what is needed by each child and their level of understanding and processing.
If you are not sure what to say to each child, you may want to talk to their pediatrician who is the other person who may be uniquely qualified to provide recommendations based upon their intimate knowledge of that child. In addition to that doctor, the patient’s doctors may be able to provide some insight based upon past experiences that they have had in helping other patients to talk to their children.
And I have a personal suggestion of my own. I believe, where possible, each child should have a “special” adult assigned to them who looks out for their individual needs. This may be another family member to whom the child is particularly attached or the mother of one of the child’s friends or a teacher of a member of the clergy as examples. This adult would be responsible for helping the individual child through the course of their loved one’s treatment. That person could help to address the child’s questions or concerns and keep an eye on how the child is acting and reacting. If the child starts acting out in negative ways, immediate attention can be obtained before the situation gets out of hand. And if the child is having emotional problems in dealing and is shutting down or withdrawing, the appropriate professionals can be contacted to help the child as soon as possible.
With a little pre-planning and addressing the matter sooner than later, the best chance for a successful outcome for the child can be achieved. And you might just be surprised at how resilient a child may be when he/she is included in the discussions. Feeling like they count and knowing that someone cares about how they feel can make all of the difference in the world.
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.