How to help a friend whose child has cancer
Helpful tips for supporting a friend through their child’s cancer journey – from parents who have experienced it for themselves.
If you have a friend or family member who has just found out their child has cancer, it’s understandable to want to jump in and help wherever you can. However, some parents might not immediately know what kind of support they need (or don’t need) when their lives have just been turned upside down.
To help you be there for your friend/family through the rollercoaster of having a child with cancer, we asked parents who have been there before what kind of support they found helpful and unhelpful throughout their child’s treatment and beyond. Here are a few of their responses:
- Our friends made lots of meals which was great. It is SO hard to cook in hospital and ordering food is expensive. When the kids are on so many drugs their appetite is all over the place, and having people that could help with shopping and cooking made life so much easier.
What we found super helpful was friends and extended family who were ready to jump in and help us with their valuable time, sometimes even on very short notice when we had to rush to the hospital or when our daughter had regular daily treatment.
- We found that family and friends who supported us by caring/looking after our younger son was just as important, because that meant we could devote our attention to our child going through treatment.
- Our neighbours were amazing – they set up a roster to mow our lawns, collect mail, open windows occasionally etc. We were gone for six months during our child’s treatment so a lot can happen to an empty house in that time, but I knew that it was being well cared for in our absence.
- It really helped when people asked if they could come over to visit before they did. I would say 98% or more of people were acutely aware that they had to keep their visits short and sweet so we didn’t end up having to ‘entertain’ them, because we just didn’t have the energy to do that!
The key is to remember that in the moment there is almost no room for us to think about what we need – but there will be aspects of our life that need to be kept ticking over, particularly if there are siblings of the child with cancer. Such as school, pets, groceries etc.
- For some people, financial support is necessary – we were pretty lucky that our community got right in behind us through fundraising and providing financial support, which meant we had the freedom to make choices that we might not otherwise have been able to make.
- Keep in touch – messages rather than phone calls as then there isn’t the pressure to talk right there and then. But don’t feel offended if your messages aren’t replied to – sometimes it’s enough just to know that people are thinking about you and your child, and it’s almost impossible to reply to everyone individually.
- No one pretended to understand what we were going through, they just made sure that they were there when we needed them. It was mainly for us to cry, and they made sure they were strong when we could not be. When our daughter was really sick they brought laughter, fun and games because my husband and I were a mess a lot of the time.
- After/in between the hospital stays the visits and assistance slowed from some friends and family, but I still needed it as our child was still recovering at home and it was still hard.
Remember that the ‘end’ isn’t the end. At that point the support might need to move more from helping with day to day life to more of an emotional support system. Once the adrenalin wears off it can be replaced with a whole different array of emotions that can be difficult to navigate.
- Don’t try to ‘fix’ it. Listen, ask questions if you want, but understand that we are having a hard enough time accepting what is happening without everyone around us falling to pieces as well.
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