Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Coping With Childhood Cancer
Helping the whole family deal with a diagnosis

by Sarah McCosham

September 01, 2013

Everyone thinks cancer is something that happens to other kids, other families – but this disease can happen to any child. According to the National Cancer Institute, in the United States, roughly 10,400 children under age 15 are diagnosed with cancer annually. When a family learns the devastating news that their child has this disease, how can they learn to cope?

One family’s story

It was January 2007, just after the holidays, when Amy Brown’s son Devin began complaining of pain in his side. Despite different methods to ease the pain, Devin grew more agitated, remembers Amy. “It seemed like something was seriously wrong, so my husband and I decided to take Devin to Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent.”

Several tests later, the doctors discovered a tumor on Devin's left kidney -- a Stage 4 Wilm’s Tumor. In addition, the doctors found spots of cancer on Devin’s lungs. He’d need surgery to remove the tumor, along with six months of chemotherapy. It happened so fast; Amy hardly had time to process the fact that her five-year-old son had cancer.

Today, at age 12, Amy says you’d never know Devin had battled the disease. "He's come so far -- he's on the football team, has gotten different academic awards -- he's amazing," says Amy. “I try to focus on where he is now – it’s still hard to think about the cancer treatment.”

Support systems

Since Devin’s diagnosis and treatment happened so quickly, Amy was overwhelmed, and couldn't process what was happening. "My family did the research, asked questions, helped care for my younger daughter -- they were amazing," she says.

In addition to the support of family and friends, Amy says it helped to read other family's blogs, websites and Facebook pages. "It helps to connect with other families who know exactly what you're going through," she says.

As for Devin, staying in touch with his classmates and teachers was key. "His Kindergarten teacher came to the house regularly to keep him up to speed with what was going on at school," says Amy. In fact, most children’s hospitals offer similar programs -- arranging school visits, scheduling tutors -- to keep kids on track with their schoolwork.

Self-care and caring for siblings

For parents, it’s easy to get lost in their child’s treatment, which can adversely affect the entire family. “It’s important for parents to find time for their own self-care,” says Lori A. Urban, a Clinical Psychologist at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent.

“A serious illness in the family can impact the marital relationship, and both spouses may need to readjust schedules, increase or improve communication, change duties at home and compromise. Asking for help from extended family members may be helpful in easing some of the physical tasks and emotional changes,” she says.

Meanwhile, with siblings, it's equally important to make sure they're coping with the experience. Oftentimes, other kids will start feeling left out as months of treatment go by. “Parents can help their other children by seeking available support, communicating and expressing their emotions, and acknowledging each family member’s unique style of coping,” suggests Urban. She says that outlets, such as physical activity, books, art, etc. may help siblings express their feelings.

Giving back

Five years later, Amy and her family have created meaning out of their experience by taking an active role in the cancer community. "You go through this, and the hospital staff is so wonderful -- you feel like you have to give back," says Amy.

In fact, on September 7th, Amy has coordinated “Color the Canal Gold,” a benefit where she and Devin will be dying the Indianapolis Canal gold in honor of everyone affected by cancer. The fundraiser will feature music, a balloon release and Amy and Devin speaking. All proceeds go toward advancing cancer research.

"Cancer research is so important," says Amy. "You think, science has gone so far – there has to be a cure for cancer."

For more information on Color the Canal Gold, or to contact Amy directly, please visit: