This guest blog is from Sara Olsher, founder of Mighty & Bright, an organisation in the US focusing on support systems for children who are faced with traumatic situations such parents going through cancer or a divorce. Here, Sara talks about why she started Mighty & Bright and gives some advice for helping your children through a parent’s cancer diagnosis and treatment.
When I was first told that I had cancer, my first thought was my six-year-old. What would I tell her? How would she handle it? How would she deal with a long recovery, and even worse, if I died, what would happen to her?
I left the doctor’s office with a thick booklet titled, “a Woman’s Guide to Breast Cancer Treatment” and an absolutely blank mind. I’d gone into shock, and over the next several days I repeatedly convinced myself that the doctor didn’t actually diagnose me with cancer — I must have misunderstood.
After flipping through the booklet and finding zero information on juggling kids and cancer, I took to the internet and came up virtually empty-handed. Advice on talking to kids about cancer was sparse and vague, and I knew I was on my own.
Like many parents facing a tough situation, my first thought was to buy a book to explain cancer to my daughter.
Books are used the world over to introduce kids to hard things. Kids need (and like!) to have concepts repeated, and will return to a book over and over, relying on it to put their minds at ease. That’s why starting with a book is so helpful.
I had a few requirements:
Six kids’ books about cancer later, I again came up empty-handed. I couldn’t understand why there were so few resources — and that’s when I decided to create my own.
When it was released, my book What Happens When Someone I Love Has Cancer immediately went to #1 on Amazon, a tribute to just how desperately parents needed it.
Speaking of exhaustion, it’s hard to stay connected when you’re too tired to do a lot of the activities you used to do together, like riding bikes or playing outside.
When I created a visual calendar for parents with cancer, I made sure to include stickers for quiet activities that are easy enough to do when you’re exhausted.
These activities can include things like playing cards, doing a craft, reading, watching a movie, or doing a puzzle. My main piece of advice? If you’re really tired, set a timer for 15 minutes and set your child’s expectations for the time limit before the activity begins.
Keeping the lines of communication open is crucial. By talking to your kids about your cancer treatment process using a book and calendar, you’re sending the message that it’s safe to talk to you about their feelings, which makes it less likely that they’ll keep any of their big emotions to themselves.
Cancer is hard for the whole family, and everyone will take a ride on the Struggle Bus at some point through this process.
For kids, struggling can look like:
If you start to see behavior like this, reiterate that they can talk to you about any of their concerns, and also make sure they know of other adults in their lives who are safe to talk to, like teachers, family friends, or relatives. My daughter told my mom and my boyfriend things she didn’t want to tell me, and their support helped her a lot.
Ever since I started my company, Mighty + Bright, to help families through hard things like cancer, I’ve had parents facing all sorts of tough circumstances reach out and confess how guilty they feel.
Cancer is not something you are putting your family through. Cancer is putting you all through this. It’s not hard because you’re making it hard, it’s hard because sometimes life is hard. Release your guilt and go easy on yourself – guilt is the last thing you need.
Along those lines, I will leave you with this: No one gets out of life without hardship. Your kids are facing hardship young, but they are facing it with you there to hold their hand. You’re resilient, and you’re raising resilient kids. Good job.
Future Dreams hold a range of support groups, classes, workshops and events to help you and your carers during your breast cancer diagnosis. These are held both online and in person at the London-based Future Dreams House. To see what’s on offer and to book your place, see here.
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The information and content provided in all guest articles is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. It is important that all personalised care decisions should be made by your medical team. Please contact your medical team for advice on anything covered in this article and/or in relation to your personal situation. Please note that unless otherwise stated, Future Dreams has no affiliation to the guest author of this article and he/she/they have not been paid to write this article. There may be alternative options/products/information available which we encourage you to research when making decisions about treatment and support. The content of this article was created by Sara Olsher and we accept no responsibility for the accuracy or otherwise of the contents of this article.
Sylvie and Danielle began Future Dreams with just £100 in 2008. They believed nobody should face breast cancer alone. Their legacy lives on in Future Dreams House. We couldn’t continue to fund support services for those touched by breast cancer, raise awareness of breast cancer and promote early diagnosis and advance research into secondary breast cancer without your help. Please consider partnering with us or making a donation.