Emotional support nourishes hope. Hope fuels body and mind with the energy to endure each new trial.
Now more than ever, your friends fighting their child’s cancer need your unconditional friendship, love and consistent encouragement.
Communication is especially valued when the child is home-bound or hospitalized, particularly when the hospital is far from home. Knowing they are remembered is a great soul-boost.
Stay In Touch
Use any strategy the family establishes to share updates. If the child has a website, sign the guestbook so them know you visited.
Visit, telephone, send cards, letters, emails, photographs or video. Talk about regular life – this is often a welcome relief, a little escapism.
Laughter aids physical recovery and positive attitude. Send amusing messages, wear a funny costume when visiting, or share a good joke if it is fitting.
Keep visits brief. Long visits may overburden exhausted families. If they ask you to leave, don’t be offended. Your thoughtfulness will lift them more than you can know.
If you call the hospital room, ward or hotel, remember the parent’s words will be head by the child. Parents may not wish to discuss certain things in the child’s presence.
Hugs cost no money and can be the greatest comfort in difficult times. When human experience breaks the confines of vocabulary, a hug conveys messages that cannot be expressed in words. Hugs are a spontaneous demonstration of solidarity. Give them freely and often.
Parents and children may wish to talk about their experiences; but sometimes they simply need a hug. Don’t press questions, but take time to listen if they need to talk.
Realize that retinoblastoma is never “over”. Many families face emotional, physical and financial challenges for years after treatment.
When treatment ends, the child is usually considered “in remission”, meaning there is no trace of active cancer. However, tumours can recur weeks, months or years later, and new tumours may form. Children are not considered “cured” until they have had no active cancer for five years.
Eye exams under general anaesthetic, brain scans and other tests may be needed, often causing great anxiety. Long term side effects, physical scars, artificial eyes, visual impairment / complete blindness and education issues are a constant reminder of the cancer. Some survivors also have a lifelong risk of developing other cancers.
Don’t belittle these challenges, or imply the family can “move on”. They will need your support even after the immediate crisis of treatment has ended.
One of the best ways you can help is by learning about childhood eye cancer and its treatment. Please take some time to look at the Retinoblastoma Resource so you can better understand the treatments your friends’ child may have.
Siblings often suffer in silence. Be aware of their feelings and coping abilities. They may be too young to understand the cancer and why their parents are stressed. They will benefit much from extra care and attention at this time.
Encourage Through Faith
If the family has a faith and expresses a wish, arrange for leaders or members of their faith family to visit them. Organize a prayer service or vigil to show support.
Many people find their faith strengthened during a time of crisis, but just as many find it is severely tested. Still others discover new faith. Your friends may not appreciate comments about “God’s will”, but may be reassured that “God is in control”. There is a subtle difference between the two statements. Be sensitive to their beliefs and emotions, and choose words very carefully.