Relationships have normal ups and downs, however, your child’s cancer experience may cause unique emotional challenges that can significantly affect your relationship. The stress from the diagnosis and new responsibilities in caring for your child may cause uncertainty and anxiety. Some relationships can be weakened by these stressful circumstances while others are strengthened during the cancer experience. It’s essential to provide mutual support, express your feelings, and work as a team to cope with your child’s illness.
From the moment a child is diagnosed with cancer, parents are faced with disruptions in daily routines, roles are changed, threats to employment and financial strain begin to mount, and emotional challenges affect the family. During this time it’s important for you to respect each other’s way of coping. If your needs clash, communication is key. Continuously discuss your feelings and develop strategies that work for the entire family.
Sharing the load and dividing up new responsibilities can reduce a lot of stress. Put your differing strengths to good use when making these decisions. You may need to divide your time but make sure to have open communication so decision-making is shared. Life moves forward despite cancer-the family needs to eat, children have to get to school and lights need to stay on. Ask friends and family to help, being overworked will likely lead to destructive stress and anger.
Maria is the mother of Bryan, a 10-year-old boy who has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia for 7 years. When reflecting on her relationship with Bryan’s dad during their cancer journey, Maria says: “I like to talk, express my emotions and cry on bad days. Bryan’s dad tends to keep his emotions to himself and be strong for the family. When he would get quiet, I felt unsupported and distant from him.” Maria took the initiative to get them talking. She said she sat her husband down and expressed her feelings. He listened and over time opened up and started to share as well. They now make an effort to communicate together and pray together. By opening honest communication, they decided how to work together as a team to get their family through this.
Over time Maria and her husband learned to make time for each other to connect. She says “we make an effort to have lunch at the hospital or have a quick coffee break just the two of us. We reassure each other and connect as a couple.” Her tips for other parents are to “make decisions together as a team. Stay positive and discuss your feelings. Get it all out, don’t hold negative feelings in because this only leads to depression and hopelessness. If you believe in a higher power, pray together.”
It’s important to be flexible and feel comfortable when dealing with role changes and responsibility sharing. Working together and making decisions as a team is essential. Relationships are strengthened when the parents connect as much as possible-make an effort to be emotionally available to each other. Increased tension is common, but it’s important to develop strategies for handling situations and provide encouragement and support to each other through this journey. For additional information about relationships during cancer treatment click here.