The effects of a child having cancer also extend to the wider community of friends, neighbours, and other people in contact with the child and their family. Everyone involved needs the right information to support them through this difficult time.
Although children may have some exposure to cancer, usually the affected person is an adult (e.g. a relative or teacher). It can be confusing and frightening for a child to learn that children can be diagnosed with cancer too.
If you have a child who has a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer
It is important to talk to them about what is happening and help them through their feelings about their friend.
- Help your child to maintain their friendship with the child with cancer – it can be confusing for your child if a special friend suddenly disappears from their life, and they might imagine that their friend has died. They probably won’t see each other as often, and they may not interact in the same way, but both children will benefit from social interaction – you and your child's school should encourage this.
- Ensure that your child understands that they can’t catch cancer from their friend.
- Explain that things will change for the child who has cancer. They may not be able to run around as much and might have quite a bit of time off school while they are having treatment. They may lose their hair or have other physical changes (e.g. be in a wheelchair).
- Encourage your child to focus on the things that haven’t changed – their personality and friendship.
Make time to help your child keep in contact with their friend:
- Take your child to visit their friend in hospital, or set up a time to have a video session over the internet.
- You could make a get-well card, write a letter, make a decoration for their hospital room or design a board game.
For older children:
Phone, email and have web contact, to help them maintain their links to the child having cancer treatment.
For friends and extended family
Sometimes it can be hard to know how to help someone when their child has been diagnosed with cancer. You will also be affected, and having lots of different feelings. You may not know what to say, or feel that you are getting in the way.
What can you do to help?
The Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service has a good list of suggestions about the type of help you could offer to a friend whose child has cancer.
You may wish to read Canteen's free online resource: A guide to support your friend when someone in their family has cancer.