Perhaps the only thing more devastating and frightening than discovering you have cancer is learning that your child has cancer. The news can be overwhelming. Here's where to start.

It may help to know that more children than ever are surviving childhood cancers. According to the National Cancer Institute, children's survival rate to adulthood has soared over the past 30 years to 80 percent.

The American Cancer Society says parents and siblings may experience many emotions including shock, disbelief, fear, anxiety, guilt, sadness, depression, and anger. These are all natural feelings. However, if you are struggling to cope with the stress and anxiety, seek help from a specialist trained to deal with the psychological, social, and behavioral aspects of cancer. Don't try to wait it out. Reach out for help now. According to the American Psychological Association, some parents experience Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome years later.

Once your child's physician diagnoses him with cancer, learn all you can about that type of cancer, the treatment options, and side effects. Bring questions to your child's doctor appointments and record the answers so you can refer to them later, or bring a friend who will take notes for you.

You are a vital part of your child's treatment team and must make important decisions about who should treat your child and where, what the best treatment options are, and whether and when you should get a second opinion. If you can, bring your child to a cancer center that specializes in treating pediatric patients.

As a parent, you have two main challenges ahead of you:

  • Providing information to your child
  • Providing emotional support as he goes through treatment and adjusts to life after cancer

Parents struggle about what to tell their sick children about their cancer. Of course, it depends upon the child's age, their personality, and your family's belief system. However, experts encourage parents to be truthful. Honest answers, even if it's "I don't know," lead to less stress and guilt, and your child will be more likely to cooperate with treatment.

As much as possible, find a way for your child keep up with schoolwork. It gives them a sense of normalcy and reassurance, distracts them from their illness, and provides important social interaction. Some hospitals have professionals who try to make children's experience less traumatic and assist them in managing school and outside activities.

Finally, get help from outside sources, including other parents of children with cancer, who can be a wealth of information and support. You may need special resources to help support your other children as they cope with having a critically ill sibling. Finally, it's crucial to find ways to support and take care of yourself during this challenging time.


National Cancer Institute. "Young People with Cancer: A Handbook for Parents." Web. 31 July 2003.

National Cancer Institute. "When Someone You Love is Being Treated for Cancer." Web. 28 November 2005.

American Cancer Society. "Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Dealing With Diagnosis." Web.

Clay, Rebecca A. "Cancer Families." Monitor 41(7) (2010): 69. Web.