COPING WITH A CHILD’S SERIOUS ILLNESS

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A CHILD YOU LOVE IS SERIOUSLY ILL…
NOW WHAT?

Breathe.
Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
You can do this.
You are stronger than you think.
And your child needs you.

Nothing can truly prepare you for the moment that you learn your precious child is in medical danger. Your instincts to protect your son or daughter at all costs are thrown into turmoil. You can’t fix this – cancer, juvenile diabetes, genetic disorders, the list goes on and on. If your child, or a child that you love, has been diagnosed with a threatening medical issue, your world has just changed and your mind is probably reeling.

First, know that I am sincerely sorry your child is in harm’s way. I know how hard this is, I really do, but I also know that you can get through it. Second, I want you to know that you are not alone. You will be amazed at how many people care and would like to provide support. Third, I am here to offer some thoughts to help clear your head and possibly help you feel better prepared for what lies ahead. Nothing will fully prepare you, I know. I vividly remember that when my son was diagnosed with cancer at age 5, I was so afraid. I felt alone and scared and didn’t know where to turn. I was desperate to find information on how to cope, but very little existed. That is exactly why I decided to write this blog and why I hope that it can be helpful to others facing a child’s diagnosis.

What follows are some general things I learned along the way – from my own 10+ year journey with a child’s medical crisis, from working within the children’s medical illness field, and from talking with countless families facing similar struggles.

Make the best of it

When your child is suffering, it just sucks. There is no way around it. Your heart is worried and broken. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make the best of it. Remember especially that your child will read off of your emotions. The stronger you appear, the more peace and confidence he or she will feel. Although it’s hard, I promise you that joy can still be uncovered if you allow it. Some of the most tender moments can occur in a hospital. Reflections of beauty and wonder can be found anywhere. Try to remain open and positive. This small act can have a huge impact on morale for everyone involved.

Soldier On

Keep your chin up. Power forward. Keep on keeping on. While these little mantras may sound trite, they are actually quite applicable. You are faced with a traumatic ordeal. You unfortunately can’t change the diagnosis, but you can change and control the way in which you approach it. Know that you have it within you to persevere with strength and courage. Have faith in yourself. Yes, there will be days that you feel you just can’t handle it. Even in the best of times, those occur. But remember that you just need to soldier on. Give yourself a pep talk!  Maybe even create your own mantra. Just commit to caring for your own mental well being along the way.

Reach out to others

So many people care in these situations. Allow them to help. It’s good for them and it’s good for you. Those meals that southerners so often bring when a person is in crisis can do wonders. It’s not just the food. It’s a constant reminder that someone cares. Take people up on offers to provide assistance. It’s okay to lean on others for emotional and practical support.

Don’t give up hope

Hope is a powerful thing. Harness it. Remind yourself of it. It’s very easy to get drawn into constant worry about the future and what will happen. Before you know it, those destructive thoughts can take over. Whether through prayer, meditation or just positive thinking, hold fast to the hope that you will get through this, your child will get through this. Hope can provide you strength to carry on.

Build a positive team

At Memorial Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center, an expert told me early in our medical journey to surround myself with positive and loving people. She said that now was the time to rid myself of unnecessary outside distractions. This was excellent advice! My team included family members, friends, teachers, church members, neighbors, ministers, doctors and nurses. Each and every positive or encouraging interaction helped in tremendous ways. Stay open to these influences. Welcome them to your team.

Take care of yourself

I have to admit, I failed miserably at this. I ate poorly. I slept poorly. I stopped exercising. I never took vitamins. I barely drank water. I’m pretty sure I only had water if Diet Coke wasn’t available. I was a mess. On top of the emotional drain that existed, I felt absolutely terrible on a physical level. I didn’t care. But now I realize that I should have made the effort to do better, not only for myself but for my child. I wish I had viewed this as a priority because it would have made me a better caregiver. Please consider taking care of yourself as you proceed.

Last but not least! Never waste a day

This one is HUGE for me! It defines my complete approach then and now. When I heard the words “your child has cancer,” I was devastated. I literally felt myself falling apart. And then something happened. In the midst of my sobbing, I thought to myself … what if he doesn’t have much time left… what if these are the last few weeks or months I ever have with him? It hit me like a speeding truck. Make the best of this time! Try to feel the love between you. Try to laugh each day. Try to celebrate every single moment that you can. I knew that if the worst were to happen, I would absolutely never regret taking advantage of the time that we did have together, even if it wasn’t the best of circumstances. This approach gave me a purpose. It reshaped our days. It helped me and it helped my son. No matter what the outcome is, better or worse than imagined, you will never regret this path.

Overall, it’s a day by day journey. But you have the power to control how that journey evolves. Fear of the unknown, anger, sadness, frustration can always creep in.  And that’s completely normal.  But always remember – You can do this. And your child needs you!

by Cindy Maynard, written with love and hope

I am the mother of three boys (including one brave cancer survivor, pictured below).  I am a lawyer, children’s medical advocate, crazy Kentucky basketball fan, and the president and founder of the Maynard Childhood Cancer Foundation.  Please visit http://www.helpkidswithcancer.org if you would like to learn more about our journey.

 

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7 thoughts on “COPING WITH A CHILD’S SERIOUS ILLNESS

  1. This is great, Cindy, and will be a tremendous help to anyone who reads it. Your observations and simple advice will touch people in or outside the circle of children with serious illness. It’s good for all to hear and it challenges us to be that kind of parent every day! Thank you for writing it!

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  2. Thanks for this Cindy! Beautifully written and helpful to me. I’m not dealing with a child with a physical diagnosis but mental illness that so far has been debilitating.

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  3. Such great insight, Cindy, learned through such a tough personal journey. Your main message of strength, hope and perseverance is relevant to so many aspects of life. I am sure your thoughts will help many others know that they can get through the difficult road of a child’s cancer diagnosis. What a blessing that you can share these words on the eve of Jake’s senior year in high school!!

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  4. Great advice for anyone facing life’s challenges and especially for caregivers. We all will face something someday.

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  5. You are an inspiration to us all!!! We look for hearts and smiley faces through all of our life journeys because of how you and your family have touched our lives! I love you all ! Thank you for inspiring me to try to be a better person. You set the bar high! xo

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