What to expect after a childhood cancer diagnosis

“Your child has cancer.”

These are words no parent wants to hear, and there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself for them. Once you recover from the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis, you’ll probably find yourself asking a lot of questions: How and why did this happen? What are the next steps? How can I make my child feel comfortable?

Each person’s cancer journey is unique, and so are the treatment plans that come with one. Although there is no “normal” or “correct” the way to handle a diagnosis, there are some common things you can expect in the days that follow. Here are a few of them.

Research

When your child is first diagnosed with cancer, the technical details might sound like a foreign language. With time, you will get to better understand what the diagnosis means, as well as its potential outcomes. This will most likely occur after you do some research online, speak with other families who have dealt with the same form of cancer, and consult with your doctor and nursing staff. Before long, it might feel like you should have a doctorate in this medical area. In those moments that you feel overwhelmed, remember to take it one day at a time.

Questions

Once you know more information about your child’s diagnosis, you’ll find that you will receive questions from well-meaning friends and family. Don’t be afraid to hold back from sharing more information than you are comfortable with. If you find it helpful, consider appointing an outside party, like a family friend, to serve as a messenger. This person can field phone calls, emails, and text messages on your behalf and even reach out directly to loved ones with updates on social networks. If your child has siblings, they will probably also have questions about cancer. Consider their age and use your best judgment when explaining the situation. Make sure they understand that they did not cause their sibling’s illness to happen. You can find more helpful resources here.

Travel

Depending on your child’s situation, you may have to travel to and from New York to get the treatment he or she needs. This might mean long drives back-and-forth between cities or an extended stay at a hospital away from home. Some facilities offer housing for families of cancer patients to stay in. You might also find yourself sleeping in the hospital itself. No matter where you land, don’t be afraid to ask support staff for assistance to help make the space feel more comfortable.

Change

Above all, expect for some changes to occur within your family. A cancer diagnosis doesn’t just impact your child–it touches everyone who loves that child. Be sure to look after your own health and seek out assistance through support groups and professional counseling as needed. You might also find yourself shocked by the extent of treatments and the amount of time your family will spend focusing on the diagnosis. Remember to look for the little victories and don’t forget to accept the love and support of those around you.

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