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Supporting families in the face of a pediatric cancer diagnosis

How to support families facing childhood cancer


September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM). Every three minutes, somewhere in the world a family hears the devastating words that their child has been diagnosed with cancer.

While families process this difficult news, it can be hard to know what you can do to support them in such a challenging time in their lives. Dr. Lauren Draper, SLUCare Pediatric hematologist and oncologist at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital worked with the hematology and oncology team at Glennon to gather five ways in which you can support families facing this news.

  1. Don’t be afraid to step in before the family asks for help. Families may not reach out because they are too overwhelmed or don’t know what they need in initial moments. Jump in and offer to bring food, help with laundry, assist with their other children, etc. Food may come in the form of food delivery gift cards to order from the hospital or even frozen meals once they are situated at home. Quick drop-offs and virtual gifts can be best as they process their new normal.
  2. Talk to your own children about the changes their friend may experience due to cancer treatment such as fatigue, hair loss and missing school. Talking to your kids helps them understand more about their friends’ diagnosis as well as show them that it isn't a taboo subject. That allows children to just be kids when they are together.
  3. Help them fill their time. They will have a lot of down time either in the hospital, at home or waiting for visits. Subscription boxes, art supplies and word searches are all great time fillers. There are many ways to help supply them with a necessity, whether it is a notebook to jot down questions or notes when talking to the doctors, a little hospital basket with lotion, non-slip socks, lip balm, travel toiletries, colored pencils, coloring book, etc.  All these items will be appreciated and bring a smile to their face during a time of such uncertainty. Please note, however, that flowers are not allowed on the oncology floor.
  4. Get creative with your fundraising methods. Fundraisers look different right now due to COVID-19. If you are organizing one, think of “virtual” ways to include everyone. Some people may not feel comfortable enough to attend in-person events due to the current pandemic. Examples include virtual trivia games and drive-by parades. These versions of fundraisers allow them to express gratitude but without increased risk of exposure.
  5. Most importantly, just be in the present with the family. Some days will look very dark so having a friend who listens without bringing the conversation back to themselves or even trying to cheer them up is appreciated. Parents are facing some of their biggest fears; sometimes they need a space to air them before they can get back to the business of caring for their sick child. This can persist past therapy as every scan or blood test after treatment carries the anxiety of "what if the cancer is back" and they may need additional support
Learn more about our expert pediatric oncology services and learn more about cancer symptoms and treatment options for children. 

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