I was overcome by feelings of hopelessness. I felt as if the ground beneath my feet had given way. I began to experience feelings of grief, as if my little girl were already dead.”-Jason, when he discovered that his daughter had cancer.
Learning that your child has cancer can be an overwhelming, even terrifying, experience. How often does it occur? According to the International Union Against Cancer, although “childhood cancers represent a small percentage of all cancers, each year more than 160,000 children [worldwide] are diagnosed and cancer is the second most common cause of death, after accidents, among children in developed countries.” For example, “there are an estimated 9,000 new cases of childhood cancer each year” in Brazil, states the National Institute of Cancer.
Childhood cancer strikes “a terrible blow that afflicts, without exception, all the members of the family,” says the book A margem do leito –A mae e o cancer infantile [At the bedside- The Mother and Child Cancer].
The diagnosis often means surgery, as well as chemotherapy or radiation or both, along with their unpleasant side effects. For the parents, it brings trauma, giving rise to fear, sadness, guilt, anger, and denial. How can parents cope with this painful experience?
A major source of comfort is, of course, caring medical professionals. “They can add facts that may be encouraging, as well as explain and anticipate certain future side effects. This information may make the experience less traumatic,” says a doctor from New York who has assisted many cancer patients.
Much comfort can also be given by other parents of children who have had cancer. With that in mind, this article interviewed five such parents who live in Brazil.
.Jason and Nuela “We learned that our daughter had acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was two and a half years old.”
HOW LONG DID THE TREATMENT LAST?
“She underwent chemotherapy for nearly two and a half years”
WHAT SIDE EFFECTS DID SHE EXPERIENCE?
“She vomited a lot and lost her hair. The enamel on her teeth darkened. And on three occasions she developed pneumonia.”
HOW DID THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?
“At first we panicked. But when we saw her health improve, we became confident that she would be cured. She is now almost nine years old.”
WHAT HELPED YOU TO DEAL WITH THIS TRAUMATIC SITUATION?
“Without a doubt, it was our trust in God, who ‘comforted us in all our tribulation.’ Our Christian brothers and sisters also gave us marvelous support. They wrote letters of encouragement, they prayed with us and for us, and they even helped us financially.
Then, when our daughter had to be moved to a hospital in another state, they provided us with accommodations and took turns taking us to the hospital. Words cannot convey our gratitude for all the support we received.”
.LEWIS AND FAB “In 1992 we learned that our daughter had a rare, aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She was 11 years old”
WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL REACTION?
“Denial. We could not accept that our girl had cancer.”
HOW WAS SHE TREATED MEDICALLY?
“She had both surgery and chemotherapy, the effects of which drained us all physical and emotionally. Twice our daughter had pneumonia. The second time she almost died. She also developed a platelet deficiency, which led to random bleeding from her skin and nose. Medication helped to reduce this reaction.”
HOW LONG DID THE TREATMENT LAST?
“It was about six months from the initial biopsy to the last cycle of chemotherapy.”
HOW DID YOUR DAUGHTER FEEL ABOUT HER DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT?
“Initially, she did not know what was happening. The doctor told her she had ‘a little round ball in her stomach that needed to be removed.’ Finally she realized that it was rather serious. ‘Daddy, do I have cancer?’ she asked. I struggled to find the right reply.”
HOW DID YOU FEEL SEEING YOUR DAUGHTER SUFFER?
“It is not easy to describe the emotional pain we went through. Imagine, for example, watching your little girl help the nurse find a vein for the chemotherapy. During the most difficult periods, I would go into the bathrooms to cry and pray. One night I felt so distraught that I asked God to let me die instead of my little girl.”
WHAT HELPED YOU TO DEAL WITH THE SITUATION?
“A major factor was the support we received from our Christian brothers, some of whom phoned from different parts of the country. One dear brother asked me to get my bible. Then he warmly read some verses from the book of psalms. Those texts were just what my wife and I needed to hear, for we were going through one of the most difficult periods of our daughter’s treatment.”
. ROSI “My daughter was four years old when she was diagnosed with a form of leukemia.”
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST REACTION?
“I found it hard to believe. I wept day and night and begged God for help. My other daughter also suffered emotionally when she saw just how ill her sister was. In fact, I had to send her to my mother’s house.”
WHAT SIDE EFFECTS DID YOUR LITTLE GIRL EXPERIENCE?
“Her daily sessions of chemotherapy made her anemic, so doctors also gave her iron supplements and erythropoietin to build up her red blood cell count. Her blood count was a source of constant concern. She also had seizures.”
HOW LONG DID THE TREATMENT CONTINUE?
“She went through two years and four months of intensive chemotherapy. During that time, she lost her hair and put on a lot of weight. Fortunately, her sense of humor helped her cope. After about six years, the doctors said that my daughter no longer showed any signs of the disease.”