Nothing can prepare you for the day a doctor sits you down and tells your perfect, beautiful child has cancer and will have to undergo months or years of difficult treatments, pain and unknowns.
The first days and weeks are absolutely overwhelming on all levels. Not only are you probably glued to the computer or phone trying to learn everything you can about your child’s cancer, but you’re also trying to process your own emotions and those of your child.
Looking back there are a few things I wish I would have known that would have made things a little better.
1. I Wish I’d Known It Would Get Easier
I’m not sure it’s a good thing that it gets easier because it means that you get used to a state of difficulty. However, it might be reassuring that things won’t always be as hard as they are at first.
In the first days, we literally had to hold my daughter, Merry down to access her port. I remember someone telling me it would get better as she got used to it. I was both relieved and saddened by the fact that it would become a normalized thing for her. But I’m thankful that the initial struggles didn’t last.
2. I Wish I’d Known Not to Compare
When you’re in the hospital a lot, you may find it tempting to compare your child’s treatment and outcomes to others. It’s important to know that treatment protocols vary a great deal depending on which cancer it is, where it is, what stage it’s in, etc.
So, while your child might have started treatment at the same time as another family, the treatments will likely vary. The same is true with follow-ups. So, resist the urge to take another child’s outcome as an indication of what will happen with your child.
3. I Wish I’d Known to Prioritize Self Care
At first, it will probably feel almost selfish to spend time on yourself when your child is dealing with cancer treatments. And I know there’s a whole culture of self-care now, but I guarantee you’ll feel weird about going to get a manicure or taking a nap or having lunch with a friend when your child is hurting.
Just try to remember that you cannot fill from an empty cup. If you don’t occasionally stop and take care of yourself, you will become depleted and have even less energy to give to your family. You don’t have to do it often, but maybe try to plan at least one self care activity per week.
4. I Wish I’d Known That It’s OK to Change My Habits
I have always loved reading and have always made time for it in my life. But during Merry’s treatments, I couldn’t get through even one page of a good book. It helped me to turn instead to magazines, podcasts and audio books, which allowed me to have the same mental escape without requiring as much of my concentration. Find things that work for you, even if that means changing your habits or hobbies to adapt to your new situation.
5. I Wish I’d known to Ignore Recommendations
As soon as you start telling people about your child’s diagnosis, the “helpful” recommendations and stories will begin pouring in. Remember that it’s your choice who to listen to and who not to listen to.
Also remember that you don’t have to endure the advice. If what someone is saying is making you feel anxious, angry, frustrated, etc. it’s OK to say, “I really appreciate your concern, but we’ve made our choice and I’d prefer not to talk about it right now” or whatever version of that you’re comfortable with.
6. I Wish I’d Known to Ask for Help
You cannot be super parent all the time. Seek help in whatever form makes life easier for you – get someone to clean your house, reac
h out to other parents who have been through it, ask a friend to drop off dinner. People want to help and often don’t know how, so they’ll probably be glad to have the opportunity.
Having a child with cancer is one of the toughest things life can throw at you. There will be a massive learning curve and lots of moments that get the best of you. But know that you will learn and adapt and find your own unique way to navigate the difficult path ahead.