Coping with Childhood Cancer


It can be difficult to know what to do next when your child receives a cancer diagnosis. Gathering information and asking questions is usually the first step to feeling more confident and in control. These tips can help you cope.

Information is key to helping kids with cancer

Part of the information-gathering process may include seeking a second opinion. Most physicians welcome having a second expert review test results, and many health plans will pay for one.

Once you’ve settled on your treating provider and treatment plan, ask your child’s doctor to explain the extent and severity of the diagnosis. They should be willing to provide a prognosis, which is the likelihood your child will improve with treatment.

A prognosis is based on data from large groups of people. Many variations will impact your child’s chance of surviving cancer. It’s important to note that survival rates for children with cancer have increased significantly over the last several decades. Today, more than 80 percent of kids live more than five years after their cancer diagnosis.

Talk with your child about the cancer diagnosis

When you feel confident and understand your child’s treatment path, it’s time to communicate with your child. Use what you know about him or her, including temperament and learning style, to share age-appropriate information in a calm, comforting manner. Your child’s physician can offer guidance about how to have this talk and answer your child’s questions.

Depending on the age of your child, you can expect questions like:

  • What is cancer? What kind of cancer do I have?
  • Why did I get cancer?
  • What treatment(s) will I have?
  • Will the treatment(s) be painful?
  • Will I get better?
  • How often or how long will I be in the hospital?

As is true for adults, having information can help children be less fearful about what’s to come. Being honest with children helps them trust both you and their physicians. Some children may find it easier to receive information over time in small bits, rather than all at once.

Let friends and family provide childhood cancer support

Letting others offer help is good for you and your child. Plus, it makes your friends and family members feel good to support you. Make a list of tasks that would be useful, like:

  • Cleaning
  • Meals
  • Errands
  • Driving your other children to activities

Next, let your family and friends know about the diagnosis — you can be selective in how much information you offer. If they want to help, let them.

Be sure to take time for yourself, too. Consider joining a support group — in person or online. Interacting with people who have shared experiences can help you get through a difficult time. Also, remember that your partner may process information differently or have different coping strategies than you. Do your best to be honest and open with one another, so you can better understand where your partner is coming from.

The pediatric hematology oncology department at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital offers second opinions, plus leading-edge treatments for childhood cancer. Our family support team is available to help patients cope with a childhood cancer diagnosis. Contact us at 310-825-0867.