Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Dealing With Diagnosis

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Will the child and family ever return to normal after a cancer diagnosis?

All human beings hope that things will get better and that tomorrow will be brighter, no matter what kind of struggles they face. Emily Dickinson wrote:

      Hope is the thing with feathers
      That perches in the soul
      And sings the tune without the words
      And never stops at all.

These words seem to capture how tightly we cling to hope. Young people and their families begin feeling hopeful about the future when they hear about available treatments and the great progress being made against childhood cancers. The diagnosis is still serious, and there are issues with treatment that can’t be ignored, but there’s reason for optimism. Today, about 4 of every 5 kids diagnosed with cancer are alive 5 years later. For some types of cancer, the statistics are even better. Many children live much longer than 5 years, and many are cured. (See Cancer in Children or Cancer in Adolescents for more on statistics and survival.)

Still, these numbers only apply to groups of patients, and can’t be used to make predictions for any one child. When cancer is diagnosed, each person has reason to believe that he or she will respond well to treatment and be cured. Most people believe that tomorrow will bring better times.

Hope, for some, is bolstered by faith that there’s a reason for what has happened to their child and family, even if they don’t understand what it is. And, in the end, they believe that they will find the strength they need to manage. Although it’s a struggle that can feel very uncertain at times, most families are able to find a “new normal” after a child’s cancer.

Here are some ideas for strengthening hope for patients and their family members:

  • Seek facts about the diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • Learn about progress in treatment methods.
  • Give each family member a role in dealing with the illness. For instance, maybe someone keeps track of medical bills, organizes the cancer information you get, or keeps friends and family informed of what’s happening. Children may be in charge of things like making cards or “goodie” boxes, recording favorite TV shows, or sending regular emails or texts.
  • Keep a healthy balance between optimism and reality.
  • Find support in prayer, religious faith, or a spiritual outlook.
  • Have confidence in your family’s ability to manage whatever must be faced.
  • Share a sense of hope with one another.
  • Develop trust in the skills of the doctors and other team members.
  • Learn from the stories of others who have sustained hope in dealing with cancer.
  • Find creative ways to bring joy or pleasure to each day.
  • Learn to tolerate the ebb and flow of hope.
  • Appreciate the beauty and wonder present in life each day.
  • Accept that we only have the present moment in which to live.

Last Medical Review: 09/22/2014
Last Revised: 10/09/2014