“Your child has cancer.” Those four little words are among the most devastating a parent can hear.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate against children, and every child is different on how they are going to react to treatment,” says Julia Leavitt, a clinical social worker on Cedars-Sinai’s pediatric hematology oncology team.
While Julia recognizes there is no blueprint on how to handle or approach the situation, she has offered some helpful tips for the journey.
Clinical social worker Julia Leavitt’s advice for families facing childhood cancer:
As a parent, you are your child’s best advocate; you know your child better than anyone else. When you notice something different about your child, you should ask the medical team for support. Note both physical and emotional changes. You’re probably not trained in pediatric oncology, so questions will naturally arise. Please ask.
Bring a second set of ears
Bring someone with you for major appointments—scan results, treatment plan discussions, family meetings, etc. A trusted ally can assist in taking notes, asking questions, and helping you remember important information.
Continue to reach for the stars for your child
Try to keep routines and strive for normalcy. Kids will still be kids. If the plan was to go camping and now you can’t, turn your living room into a campground and roast marshmallows over the stove. Have the dance class come to your house, and everyone can dress up in their tights and tutus!
Keep a notebook
List all important phone numbers. Keep a list of your child’s medications and any information you want to share with the doctor at appointments.
Take care of yourself
It’s important to practice self-care. Take time to call a friend. If your child has a prolonged hospitalization, take a coffee break every afternoon. Accept help from friends and loved ones, and learn to delegate. Take people up on their offers to help.
Have a “back pocket statement”
You may find yourself out at a yoga class or the local grocery store while your child is home with the rest of the family. You bump into a neighbor who has recently heard about your child’s diagnosis. They start offering unsolicited advice and opinions. Reach into your pocket and say, “Thanks so much for your kind concern. Blake is doing very well, and he has a wonderful medical team at Cedars-Sinai.” Using a “back pocket statement” can shut down unhelpful remarks or situations where you just don’t feel like getting into details while still acknowledging that most people have good intentions.
Keep your child’s favorite toys and snacks on hand. Pack a change of clothes just in case you’re at the hospital longer than expected or your outpatient visit turns into an overnight stay.
Although this journey will be a rollercoaster, it doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t celebrate milestones—no matter how big or small—or that you can’t create a new normal with their little ones.