First-Hand Coping Advice for Moms Whose Kids Have Cancer
The last thing any mom wants to hear is that their kid has cancer. It’s news that not only devastates parents but other members of the family, too. It’s a time that brings change, but that also requires phenomenal strength, not only from the person who’s fighting the disease but also for you as a parent. But some strategies can help you, your child and family cope. Here is what we can learn from Whitney Ringler, a mom whose son struggled with neuroblastoma cancer, and survived.
In one instant, cancer completely changed my life,” recalls Whitney. “When the words first came out of the doctor’s mouth, I was numb. I couldn’t comprehend how this could have happened. At first, I didn’t know what to do or say, and every hope and dream I ever had for my child seemed to vanish in that very instant,” she recalls.
Shock is a perfectly reasonable first response. After all, no one is ever really prepared to receive this kind of news, or the consequences that usually follow. Denial and disbelief will often follow, but to get through this, you will need to take the time to absorb the news. And there is no doubt that it will be painful and disorienting, and the future will be full of many hard and painful decisions, but you don’t have a choice but to do it.
It was hard to stay positive at first, but when the reality kicked in and I allowed myself to understand and feel what was actually happening, I knew there was only one way that my family and I were going to get through this and that was by staying positive. With that realization the maternal instinct in me kicked in and I instantly went into to fight and survive mode!” she remembers.
Talking through what is to come with your pediatrician and specialist will help you to understand what happens next. There are numerous resources that they can provide to help you and your family to understand the different care and treatment programs that might be available. The Coalition Against Childhood Cancer (CAC2) also offers a wealth of information including a way to connect with other families who are going through your situation.
Coping with something like neuroblastoma isn’t easy, but if I can get through it, so can you,” Whitney states defiantly. “My first piece of advice is to never stop fighting. No matter how hard things get, keep pushing forward. Your child is looking to you for support, so you need to do your best to be strong. It’s not going to be easy, in fact, it’s the hardest thing you will ever have to do,” she states.
Finding someone outside of your immediate circle who is going through the same experiences you are can really help. Support groups and counseling may sound like a waste of time because they don’t provide a cure for your baby. But they are actually valuable. Why? Because they show you that you are not alone, that there is hope, and provide you with an outlet for your frustrations, fears, and struggles. Just being able to talk about those things provides some relief. Relief that you are then able to replicate and provide to your child through your body language.
In the beginning, I didn’t know what to do, because the feelings of regret, guilt were beginning to overwhelm me. Just talking to other people about it helped me to realize that regrets do nothing but drain your energy and focus. And the reality was, there is nothing I could’ve done differently to change the way things are now. All I could do now was accept that it was happening, and find all the possible avenues to help him heal.”
Trusting in your doctor and the treatment options that they present is vital, not only to your mental well-being but also to your child’s. You need to reassure your child and yourself that despite the fact that treatments such as chemotherapy hurt, and can make your child appear worse than they did to begin with, they are all a part of the process of healing. Your specialist can talk you through every step of the treatment and point you towards additional resources and research papers, case studies and other patient experiences that will help to calm your mind and reinforce your belief.
There were times when I was unsure and thought ‘what is this person doing to my child!’ In those moments, I wanted nothing more than to just find a way to relieve my child of the discomfort he was experiencing, and whisk him away to a happier place. It was during those time that I found I drew my inner most strength from my motherly instincts. When I pushed through the uncertainties, I found truth in my instincts. And throughout the entire process of treatment, remission, more treatment, more remission, those instincts served as a beacon, always pointing the right way.”
No one knows your child better than you… except maybe your child himself. But most children who experience cancers such as neuroblastoma are very young, and often lack the knowledge to speak up. So there will be times when you will have to speak for them. If you notice any changes in your child’s behavior or are concerned about their comfort, speak up. Doctors, nurses, specialists are all there for one purpose – to serve the best interest of the patient. They will be able to help you and your child better understand any discomfort or symptoms they might be experiencing. There is no better way to help you or your child through a rough patch, than knowing what is happening and why.
As his mother, my own concerns aside, I always knew when something was wrong. My instincts would always tell me and even though he wouldn’t speak up and say something, I knew when to speak for him. Just understanding why certain reactions happened helped me to stay calmer, and more in tune with my emotions.”
Cancer is a long and arduous journey, and the path to healing both ourselves and our children is wrought with physical and mental hurdles. But perseverance, positivity, and the pursuit of knowledge are a recipe for successfully getting through it.
It’s been no piece of cake, for sure. There was a lot of anger and resentment in me. Feelings that I had not realized I had been projecting against things that were outside of myself, like my faith. Had I realized at the time, I would have found ways to work through them. So my last piece of advice to you is to be honest with yourself. Even after 7 years, not a day goes by that I am not reminded of the fact that cancer tried to take my child. I mean, when we found out that his cancer had cleared, there were no words to describe the joy or relief that we felt. But cancer is still something that looms over us. Chase is now partially deaf, just one of the life-long side effects from the treatment that we deal with on a daily basis, but having survived, we are grateful. We look to the future with nothing but hope and promise!”
Chase After a Cure is a charity founded by Whitney Ringler. It is a collection of volunteers, sponsors and healthcare professionals who work tirelessly in their effort to raise awareness and funds to help find a cure for rare pediatric cancers, such as neuroblastoma. You can become a part of the cure, by becoming a volunteer or donating to the cause. Get in touch for more details.