Living with children's cancer

Working through the family’s emotions

Finding out your child has cancer might mean you feel shocked, numb and in disbelief. You may also feel angry, sad, guilty, afraid or in denial. All these feelings, or combinations of feelings are normal.

The news can be very difficult to come to terms with, and you may be struggling to understand what the future holds for your child. You may also be concerned about how this will affect the rest of your family. 

The decisions ahead of you may seem very frightening and overwhelming. You might wonder if you’re capable of making the decisions required. Feeling this way is normal.

It will take time to understand all the information. You will not need to decide on every aspect of care at once. Taking things one step at a time is the best approach.



Focus on what needs to be done

Overcoming your initial reactions can be easier by focusing on what you need to do to help support your child and family. You are the best person to judge how you child will handle and adjust to demanding and stressful situations, including:

  • how they cope in unfamiliar situations
  • what makes them afraid, sad and happy
  • how to help them relax during stressful moments. 

You can help your child cope with the treatments by remaining calm, present and reassuring.

Your child's feelings and fears

It’s important to allow your child to feel afraid and to grieve. They need to feel that they can talk to you about what they’re going through. Being honest with each other about fears and feelings can help your family’s wellbeing and ability to cope.

There's no right or wrong way to feel

It’s important to understand there is no right or wrong way to feel. Most parents find that their emotions go up and down during their child’s treatment. Some days you might feel you are coping. Other days you might feel completely lost or out of control. It is an ‘emotional roller-coaster’. 

It’s important to admit you’re feeling like this to those around you, including:

  • your family
  • other supporters 
  • your child’s treatment team. 

How you feel will match the stages of your child’s cancer journey. This includes diagnosis, before treatment starts, during treatment and after treatment.


Caring for mental health

Each child responds to their situation differently, depending on their age and maturity level. Some children cope with cancer treatment better than others. However, for some children and family members, the stress induced depression may affect their mental health. Signs of depression include:

  • feeling empty, worthless, unloved or questioning the value/purpose of life
  • feeling nervous, restless or irritable
  • changes in appetite
  • low energy
  • sleep problems
  • less interest in activities
  • more crying.

If your child or a member of the family has these symptoms, make sure you speak to your doctor, so that they can refer you to services that can help. 


More information

The Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service has more information on how you might feel, and the key tasks at each stage in your child's diagnosis and treatment.