How to Support a Mother whose Child has Cancer

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Pediatric Cancer Awareness

It’s that time again. It’s September. I used to get excited for fall weather, cozy sweaters, and a long weekend with family. Now the month means something completely different to me and to so many mothers. 

September means it’s Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. 

Sadly, pediatric cancer isn’t as rare as we all wish it were. It’s likely if you haven’t had to walk this road personally, you know a mom whose child has cancer. And you want to help. Because you are kind, thoughtful, and empathetic. 

But how can you help? It’s hard to know how to support a mother whose child has cancer. 

5 Ways to Support Families with Pediatric Cancer

The Help We Need

I am honored to be part of a closed social media group with other mothers in the metro whose families have had pediatric cancer or are currently on treatment. I asked them what support they found most helpful. 

Overwhelmingly, they expressed how thankful they are for the love and support they have received. We live in a beautiful community full of caring and generous people who have made our difficult journeys more tolerable. 

Still, we agree that some types of help are particularly amazing. If you find yourself loving a mother whose child has pediatric cancer, here are some great ways to show your support.

Show Up

Melissa says it best: 

“Please show up in any way you can to support us. This can be anything from an email, hospital online greeting cards, text, visit, call, comment on CaringBridge and/or social media. Please don’t disappear because you are afraid you might say the wrong thing.” 

Heather echoed this sentiment when she told about a time her sisters surprised her with a visit after her son had a scary surgery. “I didn’t know how much I needed them until I saw them walk through the PICU doors.”

Showing up can get tricky, however, because sometimes people dropping by unexpectedly can be stressful. Every mom may feel differently given their personality and the intensity of treatment at the current moment. 

My advice on this is simple, if you consider this mom one of your best friends, if you regularly spend time with this person outside of work, or if you are closely related – show up. If you can’t answer yes to those questions, it’s best to ask first or show up digitally. 

Finally, show up for a really long time. Even when the worst part of treatment or illness is over, there is a lot on our plate. Some treatment protocols can last for three to four years! We covet your help throughout the entire pediatric cancer journey. 

Follow Our Lead

Katie gives this powerful advice: 

“Don’t second guess the treatment plan, or ask for a reason for each treatment, etc. If the parents want to discuss it in detail, they will, but we don’t always feel like turning a conversation into med school or worse, defending what the team is doing.”

We know that unsolicited advice is intended to be helpful, but we have developed strong trusting relationships with our medical team and have been forced to make some excruciating decisions. 

Steph points out, “you don’t know until you have to know. Ignorance is bliss and sometimes that makes me bitter.”

When in doubt, the best thing to do is just listen, truly listen. 

Jill sums this up nicely. “Just listening allows someone the chance to let out all that crazy emotion they carry around all the time. That release is so necessary!” 

Food and Beyond 

There is no question that food is super helpful. Freezer meals, meal trains, and restaurant gift cards are a great way to support mothers and families. Make sure, of course, that containers do not need to be returned. 

Additionally, Joy points out that we need help with our day to day tasks.

“Finding time to take care of life is hard. We already don’t see our spouses and our non cancer kids. Having to spend our precious little home time running errands and doing chores can be discouraging.”

Ashley says, “Don’t ask what you can do, when you see a need, just do it.”

As supporters, it can be helpful to set up a central point of communication. For me, this was my dear friend Sarah. She collaborated with my family and friends to let people know what we needed and to organize the help we received. 

Other extremely helpful donations include gift cards, cash, advanced payment of utilities, covering lunch balances for siblings, lawn care, and house cleaning. 

Blankets, pillowcases, and hats are great but there are a lot of groups at our hospitals and clinics that provide for these needs. 

Sibling Support 

We love when you help with our kids who aren’t sick. 

Heather, like many of us, was full of conflict when it came to her healthy children.

“I felt like they were so abandoned, but we couldn’t exactly leave the hospital.”

Consistent, quality childcare for young children puts our minds at ease. Inviting our healthy kids along when you go to a movie, or out to dinner warms our hearts. We want to see them thriving and enjoying their lives, but we can’t always be with them. 

Again, this can get tricky. I loved hearing about the adventures my well children went on with their grandparents and family friends while their brother was sick, but the stories also made me feel sad and jealous. I wanted to be in two places at once and I couldn’t be. 

Pediatric Cancer AwarenessExtend grace to pediatric cancer families

We need you, we are thankful for you, and we are sustained by your support. 

But we are also tired, scared, and full of emotion. We won’t be the best version of ourselves, and that is putting it lightly. 

“I wish I had known how to reach out better but I couldn’t,” reflects Chrissy. 

Her words are full of truth. We don’t have time for thank you notes, we won’t always return texts and calls, and we will say things we regret. 

Thank you for loving us anyway. We need you. Thank you for your support. 

Do you know a family who has pediatric cancer?

pediatric cancer

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Jessie is a talkative storyteller who enjoys making new friends. She is married to a Colorado native and together they have four beautiful children: Leela, Cora, Lincoln, and Theodore. Her oldest son is a pediatric-cancer survivor and caring for him has earned her the title of momcologist. A teacher by trade, Jessie loves to collaborate with others. In her free time Jessie enjoys movies and popcorn with her family, browsing the aisles at Target, and trying to find an excuse to eat out.

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