It was one year ago today that I finished six months of treatment for triple-negative breast cancer.
Twelve months later, my hair has returned, my body is no longer swollen from steroids, I’m declared cancer-free, and I’m able to bring encouragement to others who are on the same journey I’ve been on.
A couple of months ago I dropped something off at the home of a friend who was facing a similar treatment plan. Her children, all grade school age and older, assembled in the living room, seemingly eager to meet someone who understands their now-new world of mom being sick. “I cried when I saw my mom’s drains after her surgery.” “What’s it like when you lose your hair?” “I don’t like needles, do the needles hurt?” Their questions rolled out faster than I could answer them.
When mom is sick, especially for the long haul, it’s hard on the family.
It’s especially hard on the kids.
In a blog post he wrote several months into my treatment, my 17-year-old son said his first thoughts after we received my diagnosis was, “How’s this going to affect my life?” He wasn’t particularly proud that was his first thought, but he shared honestly that it was. I appreciated his authenticity.
Even my older kids, who were out of the home experienced fear, worry, uncertainty, and especially for my girls, the long-term consideration of what this means for their own health.
Illness affects more than the person being treated. Four steps that can be remembered by the acronym CARE can help you help a child process a parent’s illness.
Chat—Talk freely about the realities of mom or dad’s illness but also talk about their life outside of sickness. They need to know it’s okay to talk about what’s happening at home but they also need to know that what’s going on in their life is important, too!
Affirm—Acknowledge their feelings, or help them identify them. Let them know those are normal feelings for what they are experiencing.
Reassure—Reassure them that life will return to normal at some time. It may be a new normal, depending on the reality of the illness, but it will not always feel like it does now.
Encourage—Encourage them to be helpful during this time, but to remember to talk about their feelings rather than keeping them inside. Offer to listen whenever they need it.
One of the best gifts to give a child when a parent is sick is one-on-one time where they can talk, vent, and just know that someone cares.
What about you? Would you add any other wisdom to help kids when their parent is dealing with a serious illness?