Cancer Through a Child’s Eyes
by Maryann Makekau
When a woman is diagnosed with cancer, it has a powerful ripple effect on all those who know and love her. Hearing those dreaded words, “you have cancer,” conjures up thoughts and emotions that can be paralyzing. Sharing the news with others can be even more debilitating, especially when you haven’t even had the chance to swallow it yourself!
Whether your role in life is a teacher, mother, grandmother, or friend, the impact you have on others is significant. Helping your family and friends understand is crucial if they’re going to make the journey of healing with you. Yet how do you explain doubt, fear, confusion, sadness, and frustration – especially when you feel them all at the same time? Explaining cancer to your children makes the weight of bearing all these emotions seem even heavier.
Approaching cancer – and life – through the eyes of a child provides a fresh perspective.
Pediatricians, oncologists, educators, and therapists alike agree that children should be told when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Yet it must be done in an honest and gentle, albeit forthright, manner. Children often lack the vocabulary to explain the depth of such feelings, but they experience all the same emotions as adults during times of loss. They are incredibly perceptive; hiding the truth from them only generates irrational ideas and undue worry. It’s not uncommon for children to wonder, “Did I cause my mom’s cancer?” The only way to dispel such misconceptions is by talking – cancer doesn’t get worse by talking about it, and it doesn’t get better by hiding it. Talking about things makes everyone worry less, leaving more energy for helping and healing.
Cancer does hurt. It hurts physically and emotionally. It hurts the people with cancer and all those who love them. Cancer isn’t contagious; you can’t catch it, so let helping be contagious. Teach children alternative ways to hug when hugging hurts (such as after surgery). Cancer can cause many different feelings, even within the same family. Share those universal feelings: sad, angry, scared, frustrated, confused, and happy (yes, feeling happy is still OK in the midst of grief and loss).
Equipping everyone allows you to enter treatment with support and understanding. As your loved ones come together to help and encourage, you can focus on treatment and ultimate healing, which is what is truly most important. The hardest part for others when a loved one is diagnosed is figuring out what should or shouldn’t be said and done. Addressing everyone’s needs from the eyes of a child creates an uncomplicated platform for everyone to move forward together.
Approaching cancer – and life – through the eyes of a child provides a fresh perspective. Lift one another with encouragement and prayer on the un-brave days. Bring hope into your family and fight the fight together.
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Maryann Makekau is an author, inspirational speaker, and founder of Hope Matters Productions. Her Little Pink Book series is dedicated to families coping with cancer. For more information about Maryann, visit becausehopematters.com.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2011.