I Had No Clue My Cancer Would Be So Hard on My Kid

Nobody prepared me for the hardest part of my cancer experience — the toll it would have on my 6-year-old son.

I took most everything in stride when I had cancer — the extreme fatigue from chemotherapy and radiation (I slept most of the day), the pain from the drainage tubes “plugged” into my skin to channel the secretions from my breast wounds to the outside of my body, the greenish color of my skin from the chemo drugs, the constant trips to doctors and hospitals for treatments, etc.,

But what I never got used to was how cancer affected my 6-year-old son. Cancer completely destabilized Tommy.

In fact, I wish someone would have told me that cancer would be hardest on my son, not on me. If I had known this, I could have prepared better. I would have purchased picture books about cancer. We could have read them every night, learning that cancer was not necessarily a death sentence. A friend from childhood gave me a book about cancer, but it was for terminal cancer patients, and that wasn’t my prognosis. I stuck that thin, paperback book between the cushions of the couch, not wanting Tommy to be exposed to the idea in book form that I might die, although he already sensed, of course, that this was a possibility.

There’s so much fear surrounding the disease: the way people responded when they learned about my illness, the gasps, the looks of concern and sadness I’m sure terrified him.

I’m telling you now. Cancer is hard on kids. You would think you’d remember this, but in the mess of the cancer process, it is easy to forget this fact.

How did I handle Tommy’s destabilization, his days at school where he did nothing but weep or misbehave? I sat at the kitchen table when I wasn’t working and prayed to St. Anne to help Tommy get through the day. Hour after hour, prayer after prayer.

Here's what patients can do to prepare their young children for the long and winding road of a cancer journey. I recommend investing in these:

  • Here’s a great book for 3- to 5-year-olds: “Cancer Hates Kisses”, by Jessica Reid Sliweski. This book empowers children by encouraging them to give kisses, hugs, smiles, high-fives, etc. to their mother with cancer.
  • For 4- through 10-year-olds, I recommend: “What Happens WhenSomeone I Love Has Cancer”, by Sara Olsher. This book explains cancer, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in an age-appropriate manner.

The texts above will help you and your kid(s) get through the awful times associated with cancer — the fear, the uncertainty, the ignorance and the sadness. Goodness, what I would have done to have been given appropriate book suggestions when I was experiencing cancer.

Next, remember to say affirmations nightly with your child. You could say something such as the following:

“Mommy (or Daddy) is getting better every day. The medicines are working, and the doctors are taking good care of her (him.) Soon, her (his) hair will grow back. Do not cry or worry about her (him.) She (he) is getting better every day.”

Finally, try to put your child to bed every night and kiss them goodnight. This is something I left to my husband to do alone, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d do it with him. It helps maintain a bit of normalcy in the house.

In conclusion, no one ever told me what the worst part of cancer would be: seeing my little son destroyed by fear and sadness.

Readers, take note and prepare if you can.If you do, the cancer experience will be easier for everyone.

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