When your child is diagnosed with cancer, it changes the lens through which you view the world. Things look and feel different, and certain things matter far more or far less than they used to. With the help of our partner, Momcology, a national peer support and community building foundation, we asked a group of pediatric cancer families, “What do you see differently since becoming a cancer parent?” Their insightful answers are below.
Tolerance for drama or low-importance issues drops to zero.
When you’re a parent of a child with cancer, time and energy become hugely valuable resources. You just don’t have the space in your brain to contribute to drama or harbor negative feelings about people or issues that, in your new normal, just don’t matter. Know that it’s your right to cut sources of unnecessary drama out of your life – you have bigger fish to fry.
“I see anything that takes from what I have to give to my children cannot be part of my life. I have no energy for drama or negative experiences that are optional.” – LesLee
“We are in the middle of a huge drama with my in-laws… They aren’t respecting our home or our family, and we had to set some tough boundaries this week. It comes with some guilt, but this helped me realize we did the right thing.” - Susan
How you experience empathy changes.
For some parents, this means deeper empathy for everyone you come in contact with, because you never know what someone else may be going through. For others, it means a sudden lack of patience for stories about other kids’ minor bumps or scrapes. Whichever one of these you are, or if you’re a little bit of both, know that it’s ok to decide for yourself how much of someone else’s situation you are able to handle right now.
“I’m just not empathetic to normal kid sickness/injuries. When Facebook friends complain of a stomach ache or sore throat, I’m thinking, please… Not exactly proud of this, but give me a break!” - Chrissy
“I was the opposite – I asked my family and friends to share the normal stuff, because they quit doing so. They didn’t feel comfortable complaining to me about petty stuff. But I also limited how often or when I could be a good listener – that was key! It was ok for me to NOT expose myself to it as well.” - Mindy
“I have developed much deeper empathy towards others and I have discovered, in a deep way, that giving of yourself really helps fill you up. I am a 100 percent changed person. I see past the small stuff now – I have a completely altered perspective.” – Julie
You learn to let little things be little.
Cancer is a big deal, and it has a way of making so many other things feel much smaller. Household tasks, minor arguments… none of these things matter as much as they did before. This gives you the freedom to spend time doing things you love with the people who matter most.
“Little things just don’t matter. Let your kids do weird things with their hair and clothes and whatever else.” - Jenny
“It’s a lot easier to let the little stuff go and not let it bother me. Laundry can wait, my house doesn’t have to look perfect all the time. I’d rather take my extra 30 minutes spending that quality time with my family than worrying about everything else.” - Heather
“I took my older non cancer-kid son out of school for his birthday and my husband took the day off and we went to the aquarium. I would never have let my child miss school unless sick before. I celebrate more now.” – Vanya
You change your expectations for your child.
When your child has cancer, they are often asked to adjust to situations that are far beyond their age or maturity level. Plus, it’s hard to expect a child to behave just like their peers when they are feeling sick or in pain – so you allow tantrums, bend the rules, modify expectations. The rules of parenting that may have seemed clearer before are blurred, and you adjust along the way.
“I have more patience for my child. I am able to sit back and let him have his meltdowns and not react like I used to. I can understand he’s just a kid and he’s allowed big emotions like me – he just can’t control them, and that’s ok.” - Melissa
“I am a rule follower, so letting go of my perceived rules for what a kid should or shouldn’t do at his age is a big thing that shifted for me. That PG-13 movie he wanted to watch while he’s going through chemo transported him into that world away from the hospital bed.” – Mel
You view statistics, risks, and the word ‘rare’ differently.
When the thing that only happens to one out of every 285 children per year happens to your child, statistics that used to comfort you now scare you. You’ve won the bad-luck lottery too many times to count, and you now know that things you thought would be part of your normal life aren’t guaranteed. Just because something is ‘rare’ doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you or your family.
“Risks. Statistics. When you’ve been the one to draw the short straw, that one in however many that is comforting to others is scary to you. I’ve lost my ‘innocence’ and am so aware of the reality that anything can happen and there are no guarantees. It’s a heavy weight to walk with.” – Ashley
“Rare has a different meaning to me now. When it’s your son, ‘rare’ just doesn’t matter anymore.” - Kelly
Gratitude can come from unexpected places.
The things you appreciate now might have slid right past you before cancer was a part of your child’s life. You might even come to appreciate things you rolled your eyes at before. Cancer has a way of turning some of us into optimists, holding on tight to every happy moment.
“There is so much joy in chaos. By chaos I mean the busy schedules of sports and school activities that I used to dread attending, that now I’d give my right arm to be at!” – Amanda
“I have the gift of perspective, I see the positive side of almost anything. I am grateful and I am not afraid to express my appreciation. I try not to take anything for granted.” – Ash
“The small things don’t matter and even the big things aren’t that big anymore. Perspective is amazing. I know how little I can live with and who really will be there for you and what is important. Life really is too short not to be happy. I feel like I am a walking bumper sticker now.” – Nadine
“I am more grateful for the small things in life! A note from your son or text from your daughter who is two hours away in college means everything. Cherish the time you have with your family and friends!” - Susan
Momcology, in partnership with Children's Cancer Research Fund, is working to create meaningful content that raises awareness about what families face while going through childhood cancer. By combining CCRF's authentic storytelling capabilities with the many voices and experiences from within the Momcology network, we are eager to provide a new platform to amplify caregivers' voices to the public to both accelerate research and raise awareness. Visit Momcology to learn more and join their community.
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