A Delicate Balance: Cancer Treatment and Parenting

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By Jeannette Kolarik, L.M.S.W., and Amy LaMarca Lyon, L.C.S.W.

Parents diagnosed with cancer face unique challenges. One of these is maintaining the roles and duties of a parent, in addition to new responsibilities that come with cancer treatment.

Raising and caring for children requires time and energy. You're responsible for meeting your own needs and the needs of your children through your cancer journey.

During cancer treatment, you, as a parent, may find that maintaining your role can be most challenging. Treatments are often time-consuming and must be administered at the hospital or doctor's office, decreasing the amount of time you have to spend at home.

Side effects from treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue or post-operative recovery can sometimes be debilitating or diminish your energy levels. That makes it difficult to keep up with the high-energy demands that parenting requires.

Some types of treatment may require you to be in the hospital for extended periods of time, and contact with other adults and your own children may be restricted to ensure your own safety or the safety of others. If you live out of town or out of state, geography may be an issue because of the time spent traveling.

Overcoming barriers
How do you, as a parent, overcome these barriers? It's important for your children's emotional well-being to stay engaged and involved with them while going through cancer treatment. Although your involvement may not be what it once was, there are creative ways to maintain those routine activities and stay engaged.

You may have some routines and activities with your children that can be modified. This can also be an opportunity to begin new routines and start new activities to bond and stay connected with your children.

For many families, bedtime routines are common. Perhaps part of your nightly routine is to read a bedtime story with your child. For those traveling to MD Anderson for cancer care, this may mean you are not available for those bedtime routines. 

Here are a few ideas of how to modify those routines:

  • Make audio recordings of yourself reading a few of your child's favorite bedtime stories and have another adult help your child set that up each night before bed.

  • Bring your laptop and read their favorite story via video chat each evening.

  • Plan a phone date and read to them over the phone.

Seek support
It's helpful to let your nursing staff know this is a priority for you, so they can best accommodate the needs of you and your family. 

In the Parent Support Group (part of the CLIMB® program) at MD Anderson, we have parents identify 3-5 activities that they and their children enjoy doing together. Then we explore ways to modify those activities or we brainstorm new activities parents can do with their children. This way, parents can manage good self-care and continue to meet the emotional needs of their children.

Talk with your loved ones or with a social work counselor, bounce ideas off of them and let them help you come up with creative ways to navigate these challenges.

If you're an MD Anderson patient, you can contact your counselor at MD Anderson by calling the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195.

For more information about the CLIMB Program, visit our website.


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