How You Can Help Your Grandchild
Grandparents can be an immense strength and practical support during a child’s cancer journey.
Grandparents often feel they should be the one with cancer. They wish they could take their grandchild’s place and spare them the suffering of invasive tests and aggressive treatment, pain and tears when their life has barely even begun.
Often, grandparents’ feelings of helplessness are stronger when they are not actively involved in caring for the child with cancer or their immediate family.
If you live close by, the list of ways you can help is infinite. Use your knowledge of the family’s regular activities to guide you in what will be most helpful. Always check with the family before doing things, to avoid misunderstandings or upset.
If you live far away, knowing how to help can be very challenging. There are, however, many ways you can offer support.
Visit the Family and Friends section for suggestions of practical ways to help.
Listen and Talk
Listening, and responding to the distress of your child and / or her partner may be very difficult for you, but a patient ear may be the greatest gift you can give. Don’t feel you need to offer solutions for every challenge they face. Very often, just being able to safely voice feelings is cathartic for parents in crisis.
If you feel unable to help, encourage your child to talk with another person, to discuss concerns with the medical team, or to seek professional help. Be sensitive though, recognizing that emotions and reactions will be more potent at this time. Don’t let your child and / or partner feel you are abandoning them or that you don’t care about their feelings.
Recognize that some people prefer to keep their feelings private, but let your child and her partner know you are ready to listen if they want to talk. Understand too that they may not always be able to talk. Children can hear conversations when parents talk on the phone, and at times it may be important to avoid this situation.
Cancer causes some grandparents to criticize the way their grandchildren are raised, or deepen pre-existing conflicts with their adult child or in-law. Grandparents sometimes even blame their child or partner for the cancer, particularly when one of the parents has a known RB1 mutation.
Be sensitive to the fragile emotions of your child, her partner and children. We encourage you to read the pages on emotional responses of parents, children and siblings to find out more. Think carefully before you speak. Use encouraging words and actions that will strengthen the family, and avoid potentially hurtful or destructive words and actions.
Try not to criticise the parents’ medical decisions. Your child and her partner will probably have agonise over their options, and discuss them at length with doctors. Though you may have strong opinions, this is probably not the time to share them.
Retinoblastoma requires different treatments from adult cancers, so what you know about cancer from adult friends very often will not apply to your grandchild. If you are confused about a particular test or treatment, please ask your child to explain it, or visit the Medical Care section of this Retinoblastoma Resource for more information.