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A cancer diagnosis turns everyone’s world into a tailspin. When a parent has cancer, it’s not unusual for a child to feel upset, sad, confused, worried, or angry. Shock, fear, disbelief, and numbness are just a few emotions a child may experience when learning a parent has cancer may make a child or youth feel. Suddenly, their world is disrupted, and they’re dealing with many emotions.
Fortunately, there are ways to help children cope with cancer's emotional, psychological, and social impact.
There are 5 million children dealing with a parent with cancer, and although they may feel like it, children with parents who have cancer are not alone, thanks to organizations like Kesem. Whether it’s a recently diagnosed parent, one undergoing treatment, a parent who’s a cancer survivor, or the pain of coping with the loss of a parent due to cancer — they are not alone.
The emotional, psychological, and social reactions to having a parent with cancer may increase levels of stress and anxiety, mood changes, and self-esteem issues.
As a result, children experiencing a parent with cancer might find that their social and interpersonal relations change; they may exhibit acting-out behaviors, changes in academic performance, and suffer from physical pain and discomfort.
There’s no question that children coping with a parent’s cancer are under tremendous stress. They’re more likely to experience increases in general levels of distress and anxiety. In addition, they may experience other mood changes that can affect their self-esteem. Studies have found various complaints in adolescents faced with parental cancer, from fatigue, abdominal pain, dizziness, and sleeping problems to loss of appetite.
Depending on the individual child and their age, symptoms may manifest differently. For example, research has shown that adolescents (10 to 19) show higher levels of emotional problems than school-aged children. In addition, adolescents may be more vulnerable because they are at a more advanced developmental stage and have more cognitive abilities than younger children.
Children, out of concern for adding to their parents' burden, may not always express their emotions. Children may not always have the language and skills to help them express their feelings, making communication critical.
Regardless of the prognosis, it’s crucial to talk with children openly and honestly. Older children will likely want more information and ask detailed questions. Adolescents and teens may reject talking about the situation and seem withdrawn. It doesn’t mean they’re not interested or don’t care. They may simply need more time to process information.
Children with a parent who has cancer need support. Feelings of isolation are understandable. While many people may want to help, sometimes the best option is being in a safe place with authentic, compassionate, non-judgemental people who have “been there” and can offer reassurance, companionship, and practical support.
For example, Kesem programs encourage kids to share their experiences with each other, which builds friendships. Through peer-to-peer support, children can express their emotions and concerns in a caring and comfortable environment.
Kesem provides life-altering experiences for children dealing with a parent who has cancer. We offer year-round services, our Camp Kesem summer camp program, and family resources that help children cope with the situation, become resilient, and create new friendships.
Your generosity allows us to offer Camp Kesem and all other year-round services free of charge, so any child dealing with a parent’s cancer, regardless of their economic situation, can begin to heal.
There are so many ways to give. Donations help Kesem change lives! You can help by participating in fundraising; donating through planned giving, donor-advised funds, stock donations; attending or sponsoring an event; or shopping at our store. With your support, we can ensure that more children impacted by a parent’s cancer can feel joy, hope, and the magic that is Kesem.