In the roller coaster days after diagnosis, most parents stop eating and sleeping properly.
Sometimes, every moment can seem saturated by excruciating emotions, and parents can quickly become run down and unwell.
Your wellbeing is as vital as your child’s, and you will be of little help if you are also ill. So look after you as much as you look after your family.
Eat nutritious, home cooked meals whenever possible to ensure you maintain a balanced diet. Ask family and friends to prepare meals in individual portions so you can store them in the freezer and defrost as needed when you don’t have time or energy to cook.
At the hospital, order in nutritious food rather than relying on vending machines or fast food. Make use of meals provided at hospitality houses, and ask friends to bring meals when they visit.
Regular exercise helps to release tension and keep your body healthy. Many people find it focuses the mind, reducing stress and creating a “time out zone” in the midst of frenetic activity and heightened emotions.
Join a gym or go for a swim once a week. If you don’t have the time or money to do this, try to take regular walks around the block. Walk up and down several flights of stairs at the hospital, or do gentle yoga by your child’s bedside.
Think About YOU
Make time for the activities that lift you up, such as a favourite hobby, an absorbing book or a walk in the park. You may feel selfish in diverting energy from your child, but this time for you is vital.
Childhood cancer is one of the greatest parenting and relationship challenges you will ever face. You need to regularly unwind, let off steam and refuel, so you are physically and mentally fortified for the challenges that lie ahead.
Laughter is a wonderful balm. It relieves stress, dissolves anxieties, and has been proven to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system and release healthy relaxing hormones.
Watch a comedy, share jokes or amusing anecdotes from your day, talk about funny memories and let yourself smile. Remember that laughter is infectious and humour will be especially valuable to your child’s emotional well-being during chemotherapy treatment.
Talk With Other Families
The childhood cancer community is a tightly-knit network of families just like yours. No one can understand your feelings like other parents of a child with cancer. The mutual support burdens shared can be a tremendous boost on hard days.
Talk to parents you meet in the waiting room or on the ward. They can offer valuable friendship and often have good advice to share.
Parent support groups provide an opportunity for families to link up, share feelings and support each other. Ask your nurse or social worker if there is a local support group, or look at the Further Resources section for organizations around the world.
If circumstances become overwhelming, don’t be afraid to ask for professional support. Talk to your primary care doctor, or ask for a specialist referral. Working through concerns with an uninvolved person can be very cathartic.
You may find anti-depressant medications or sleeping tablets help restore emotional equilibrium, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. Find the approach that is right for you, and work with it.