Julie and Sarah are best friends. They enjoy coffee dates while the children are at school, carpooling to sporting events together and they frequently babysit each other’s children for date night. For the most part, Julie and Sarah have enjoyed a friendship of equal give and take. Then sadly, Julie received news that some 1 in 8 other American women also receive in their lives; she was told she had breast cancer. Of course, Julie’s immediate thoughts were Am I going to die? followed closely by How will my kids get through this? Mothers with breast cancer have been asking similar questions for years, and while there are many concerns that arise upon hearing a person has breast cancer, one of the least discussed is how a child is affected by his/her mother’s diagnosis.
Thankfully, Sarah was able to help both Julie and her children throughout that difficult time. During one of their usual coffee dates, Sarah made a commitment to Julie and her children: she would be there for support and help the children cope with their mother’s battle. Some of the things Sarah did to help Julie’s children cope with their mother breast cancer diagnosis were:
Allow the children to continue being children. How does that look?
- As Julie discussed her treatment options with her doctor, she knew she would only share information that was appropriate for each child. Why burden her children with information they weren’t old enough to truly comprehend? Instead, she decided to rely heavily on her husband and best friends to figure out what was the best course of treatment.
- By allowing children to still be children, birthday parties, play dates, driving lessons, etc., still went on, even if Julie couldn’t do the bulk of the work. Sarah planned Julie’s daughter 6th birthday party because Julie was in the middle of chemotherapy. She physically couldn’t plan the party. Sarah also took Julie’s children to see the latest children’s movies and she offered to help Julie’s 16-year-old son practice for his driving license.
Help the family maintain their routine. How does that look?
- Sarah helped the family keep their routine as much as possible. For Sarah, this meant picking up extra carpool duty and taking Julie’s children to many of their extracurricular activities.
- Sarah also made twice as much dinner on most nights so Julie’s family could still have home-cooked meals. When Sarah dropped off the meals, she would often include a special treat for Julie’s children.
Allow the children to express their emotions. How does that look?
- Over the course of their mother’s treatment, Julie encouraged each of her children to express their fears, concerns, worries and questions. Julie did this by just spending time with each child, ready to listen. She also brought her six-year-old a Kimmie Cares cancer educational doll to help her learn about cancer in a way she could understand.
- Sarah noticed Julie’s ten-year-old was not as talkative as his brother or sister, and decided to buy him a journal. While both Julie and Sarah were tempted to look through the journal, they knew it was more important to allow Julie’s ten-year-old a safe, personal area to process his feelings. All of Julie’s children eventually attended a support group for children whose parents were diagnosed with cancer.
Help children figure out they can help. How does this look?
- Children often feel better about dealing with cancer when they can be part of the battle in fighting it. Eventually, both Sarah and Julie helped the kids figure out what each of them can do to help their mom.
- Julie’s six-year-old drew her mom a special picture to use during her chemotherapy treatments.
- The 10-year-old volunteered to help fix dinner each night and after a few months was completely responsible for one meal a week.
- It was difficult to get the 16-year-old to commit to “helping out” consistently, whenever Julie was too sick to drive he was more than willing.
All mothers diagnosed with breast cancer need a Sarah of their own! While working together as a team, Julie and Sarah were able to help Julie’s children cope with Julie’s cancer diagnosis. Please use these ideas to help you figure out how to support a children whose mothers are battling cancer.
How to Talk to Kids About Breast Cancer – Find tips that can be used from the point of view of a mother with breast cancer and the point of view from a healthy parent explaining the disease to his/her child. Click here to learn more.
Breast Cancer Quick Reference Guide – This is a great education chart for anyone learning about breast cancer or teaching breast cancer awareness. The chart includes the symptoms of breast cancer, preventions, treatments and side effects of treatment. Click to learn more.
If you need reading resources about kids and cancer, especially breast cancer, you can read The Lemonade Club by Patricia Polacco, and Mom Goes To War by Irene Aparici Martín. These are excellent books about kids that helping friends and mothers battling cancer.
About the All-Star Blogger
Dr. Corine Hyman is Clinical Psychologist who practices in Baltimore, Maryland. However, my passion is to write books that educate, uplift, and help provide parents with a tool to talk about difficult subjects. To date she has published several picture books including: Jaden Goes to Foster Care, Why We Give Gifts at Christmas Time; What is Love; My Journey with Jesus Christ and Teaching Christ’s Children About Anger. You can find out more about her at www.booksbycorine.com.