If you are reading this then the chances are that someone you know has received the devastating and life-altering news that their child has some form of childhood cancer. The natural response is to want to do something to help and to try and make things better, or at least make things a bit less shit (apologies for the swearing, don’t tell me off, Mum). As a parent whose child has cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) in our case, these are the top 10 things that we found most helpful in the early days of the diagnosis. Here are 10 things you can do to help a family whose child has cancer.
Look After Pets
When a family is in the early stages of diagnosis and treatment, they will be spending vast quantities of time at the hospital supporting their child through tests, treatments and procedures. If they have any pets then either getting a key so you can pop in and feed the goldfish or having the dog/cat/hamster etc. to stay with you will be a huge weight off their mind. For us, it was unbelievably helpful when Daddy Dino’s brother had Millie Bear stay with him for the initial hospital stay.
Look After Siblings/Other Dependents
If the parents have another child or children or even have caring responsibilities for another relative then stepping in to help provide care will again make things easier. A cancer diagnosis is extremely difficult for siblings, especially as they may not be allowed to visit so making sure they have fun things to do will help them. Things like having a sleepover with grandparents or cousins made the first few weeks a lot nicer for the Unicorn.
When they have spent all day at the hospital and then get back late, have to care for a sibling (and themselves) or put a load of washing on, the last thing they want to do is cook a meal. One of the things that I really appreciated was having a meal or two plated up for me that I could just pop in the microwave when I got home. A home-cooked roast without the hassle of cooking it at the end of a long day is more comforting than you can imagine.
Trying to keep on top of the laundry when you are barely in the house is a huge challenge. It is often made worse if there are soiled items of clothing from the sick child while they are adjusting to their medication. Being able to drop this off at my mum’s knowing that it would be washed, dried, folded and most likely ironed then returned to me was a godsend.
When you are living at the hospital, even if you are alternating nights like we did, finding time to nip around the supermarket is pretty low on your list of priorities. Knowing that we had basics like bread, milk, breakfast bits and snacks to take to the hospital meant that we had more brain space to process the cascade of information that came our way.
Driving back and forth to the hospital is emotionally draining and the parents are likely to be sleep deprived as well. Having a lift to and from the hospital will not only save their energy but will also save them money on parking and possibly fuel if the lift giver is not being reimbursed.
Be A Point Of Contact
Receiving a cancer diagnosis will mean that the parent will be sending an awful lot of messages to friends and colleagues. Instead of them repeating themselves all the time, offer to be a point of contact for your friendship group. This way they only need to let one or two people know any updates and those trusted people can then relay the message to everyone else.
Having a child with cancer can be extremely costly. Things like hospital parking, fuel or taxis to and from the hospital, meals at the hospital such as ready meals or meal deliveries can soon mount up. Not to mention there may be a loss of earnings if the parent is self-employed or has to give up or be absent from work for long periods. With permission from the parents, you could set up a fundraiser like this one to help the family out with some of these costs or put it towards a family trip once the child is feeling up to it.
If you want to do something nice but want to surprise the family, you could pop around and tidy the garden. It’s highly likely that the child won’t be able to go far at the beginning of their treatment due to their lowered immune system so being able to get out in their garden for some fresh air will be hugely beneficial.
Keep In Touch
Let the family know that you are thinking of them, pop them a message every so often to say something like you hope things are going well and that they are in your thoughts. It can be very lonely when your child is sick so feeling like people outside of that bubble and in the real world care is hugely comforting. If you aren’t sure what to say to the parents then this article will tell you 10 things you shouldn’t say and 10 things you could say instead.