One of the main considerations people who outside the pediatric cancer “community” don’t think about is the IMPACT of having a son or daughter with cancer has on the entire family. I was recently reading and scanning different websites and I ran across this mother’s account of the IMPACT cancer had on her family. As I was reading her writings I related to almost everyone of her thoughts. The only one that is different for our situation is having our marriage end in divorce. There have certainly been bumps in the road and probably always will be but not to the point of divorce. God gives us no more than we can handle. The IMPACT of going the pediatric cancer treatment is tough, sad, long, financially straining, overwhelming, disappointing, and many more descriptive words but based on scripture is not more than we can handle.
Take a minute and read this mother’s account of how cancer has had an IMPACT on her families life.
On July 10th, 1987, my family as I had known it changed forever. I was 31 years old, had a 9-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter, 1-year-old son, and was five months pregnant with identical twin boys. My daughter had been sick for nine months. She had been diagnosed by our family physician as having a bug bite, virus (put on antibiotics), ear infections (had tubes put in), and tonsillitis (tonsils and adenoids removed). Despite such attempts to come up with some reason for her ‘failure to thrive,’ Naomi continued to deteriorate to a mere 32 pounds. No longer able to walk, I took her to the emergency ward of our local children’s hospital and on that fateful day in July, I heard those haunting words that will always sear my head, my heart and my soul that “my daughter had cancer.”
A diagnosis of childhood cancer is like a bomb going off in a family. The once ‘normal’ routines of daily family interactions between parents and children change forever.
Time is now spent away from home caring for the cancer child. It is not uncommon for one parent to give up their job, with associated loss in salary, and spend extended time away from the family in order to care for the cancer child at a tertiary center that is located hours away. During initial diagnosis and treatment, it can be days to weeks before the parent(s) are able to return home. If a child has to undergo a bone marrow transplant as part of their cancer protocol, the parent might be away for months. During this time, other children in the family are often left in the care of many other caregivers including neighbors, friends, and extended family members. Normal family routines that include meal preparation, school, work, sports and community activities, and even cleaning the home, are replaced with providing around the clock bedside care. Families are dependent upon others for the care of their other children, for meals, house cleaning, and sometimes transportation to and from the hospital. The needs are great, and even more so for the single parent family.
The diagnosis of childhood cancer is often accompanied with a family setting of young parents with other small children and a limited income. The impact of having a child diagnosed with cancer is deeply felt financially, socially and emotionally by the entire family. It is not uncommon for these young parents to lose all assets as a direct result of out-of-pocket costs associated with providing the best possible care for their cancer child.
Relationships between family members can become tense. In addition to a lack of quality time together and conversations that primarily focus on the current health status of the cancer child, a difference of opinion between the parents with regards to the treatment of the cancer child can result in additional stress on the marriage. This becomes even more acute when conventional treatments have become exhausted and parents disagree as to whether they should continue to treat their child with experimental cancer protocols. Conversations between family members are predominantly focused on today’s treatment regimen and how to get through tomorrow. Sleep is a luxury, with occasional moments grabbed while sitting up in a chair at the bedside of the cancer child.
Siblings in the family can feel that they are tossed around from place to place and can become angry at the parents who are now ‘missing in action.’ Resentment can build towards the cancer child as they are seen as ‘the cause’ of the change in their family. Such resentment is then accompanied with guilt for such negative feelings, while also feeling fear for their sibling who is facing intense treatment side effects in order to live.
It’s been 19 years since cancer hit my family like a bomb. Like many families, my marriage ended in divorce. As a couple we were never able to understand and address each other’s emotional needs during such a difficult time. My four sons have grown into strong and caring young men—qualities that they attribute to the love and concern that they have had for their sister. My daughter is now a two-time cancer survivor. The total body radiation that was part of the bone marrow transplant protocol that saved her life as a little girl, was the cause of a second cancer a year ago. She, too, is strong and other-centered as a result of the intense battle that she endured at such a young age. As for me, cancer changed my life forever. My career, my marriage, my family all changed, mostly for the better. More importantly my heart and soul are now devoted to the littlest cancer patients in the country, a devotion that continues to hope that one day all children will be completely cured of this disease.
Childhood cancer leaves its trail of devastation AND hope—a trail that encompasses the entire family for a very long time.
Even through the many trials there is good that comes from this journey. Pray for ways you can have an IMPACT on families as they travel this winding journey each day, hour and minute!