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Fighting childhood cancer: A parent’s untold story

By Hind Yousef , Family Flavours - Apr 01,2024 - Last updated at Apr 01,2024

Photo courtesy of family flavours magazine

By Hind Yousef,
Clinical Health Psychologist
Grappling with emotions

 

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, parents are plunged into a world of medical complexity and uncertainty. This sudden shift can trigger a spectrum of psychological responses, from denial and shock to intense anxiety and fear, as they grapple with the reality of their child’s illness. And thus, parents experience a rollercoaster of emotions.

Constant worry about treatment outcomes, the wellbeing of their child and the disruption of family life can lead to chronic stress and anxiety. Many parents struggle with feelings of guilt, anger and helplessness, impacting their overall mental health.

 

Coping mechanisms

 

Coping mechanisms vary, with some finding solace in support groups, therapy, or immersing themselves in their child’s care.

The strength of support systems is crucial; emotional support from healthcare professionals, fellow parents in similar situations and close family and friends becomes a lifeline. Mental health professionals play a critical role, offering counselling and strategies to manage the psychological toll.

Managing daily life while caring for a child with cancer

is a daunting task. The stress of frequent hospital visits, treating side-effects and maintaining normalcy for other family members can be overwhelming. This has parents often neglecting their own health and well-being, leading to burn-out and depression.

 

Another layer of stress

 

Additionally, the financial burden of childhood cancer treatment adds an extra layer of stress if not covered by insurance or if they have to take their child to a private treatment facility. The costs of care, potential loss of income and the need to focus on the child’s health, can create significant financial strain, exacerbating mental health challenges.

 

Hope and resilience 

 

However, there is hope and resilience amidst struggle.

Despite these hardships, many parents find resilience in hope. They draw strength from their child’s courage, their belief in God’s guidance, the support of their family and friends and small moments of joy.

 

Did you know?

 

International Childhood Cancer Day is a global collaborative campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to express support for children and adolescents with cancer, the survivors and their families (World Health Organisation - WHO).

Focusing on hope and positive outcomes helps in maintaining mental and emotional balance.

Engaging in advocacy and awareness can be therapeutic for some parents. Thus, it’s important for health facilities to provide awareness sessions to parents. This provides a sense of purpose and helps in channelling their experiences into positive action, thus contributing to their emotional healing and the broader childhood cancer journey.

Navigating a spectrum of emotions The mental health journey of parents with a child fighting cancer is complex and multifaceted. It involves navigating a spectrum of emotions, from deep despair to resilient hope. This journey highlights the importance of acknowledging and addressing the mental health needs of parents, ensuring they receive the support and care needed to be the pillars of strength for their child.

Their story is one of love, resilience and the enduring human spirit in the face of adversity.

 

The global aspect

 

According to the Pan American Health Organisation / (WHO)

worldwide, about 300,000 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer each year. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death among children and adolescents worldwide; approximately 280,000 children aged 0 - 19 are diagnosed with cancer each year

In high-income countries, more than 80 per cent of children with cancer are cured, but in many low and middle-income countries, the recovery rate is about 20 per cent. 

 

Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours magazine

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