For Any Cancer Diagnosis
Q. A teacher asked me (a school social worker) how to help an 8-year-old student with his/her own cancer diagnosis and loss of hair. Any advice?
Children who are diagnosed with cancer face unique challenges and adjustments. Parents, teachers and other caretakers often struggle with how to explain cancer and its effects. When speaking with this child’s teacher, you may want to consider the following points.
Children understand simple and clear explanations best. Provide concrete, age-appropriate information when speaking to this student. Explain that there are special medications that they will need to take that will help stop the cancer from growing. These medications may also cause his/her hair to fall out. Some children will want to hear a more detailed scientific explanation while others will be satisfied with more general information. Reassure the child that hair loss is temporary and explore whether he/she would feel most comfortable wearing a hat, scarf or wig in the meantime.
It is common for children to feel an array of feelings when they begin losing their hair including anger, sadness, embarrassment and fear. Let this child know that it is safe to express those feelings to you and his/her teacher. Validate the way they feel and remind him/her that although it is upsetting to deal with these side effects, it means that the treatment is working hard to stop the cancer and make his/her body healthy again. You may also want to preemptively prepare this child for questions his/her classmates may ask and come up with ways the child will feel most comfortable responding. While some children would rather not discuss their diagnosis with classmates, others may be more open with regards to what they are going through. There is more than one right way for the child to interact with their classmates and understanding your student’s specific wishes can inform the way you and the child’s teacher help the child’s classmates support the child with cancer.
You may find the following books helpful when explaining cancer and its side effects:
- Chemo, Craziness & Comfort by Nancy Keene is a book for children between the ages of 6-12 that provides clear explanations about cancer and treatment.
- KidsCope has a free comic book called KemoShark that helps explain cancer and chemotherapy
The American Childhood Cancer Association provides books to families with a child with cancer free of charge. Educating the Child with Cancer: A Guide for Parents & Teachers edited by Ruth Hoffman is a book for parents and teachers that provides guidance regarding the impact of cancer on a child’s education. It is free for families and for the child’s teacher.
For more information, support or guidance, call us at 800-813-HOPE (4673) to speak with an oncology social worker.
Q. How do I find financial help for a friend whose daughter has cancer (age 5)?
Families with children undergoing cancer treatment often face overwhelming financial costs. In addition to the medical costs, many parents find that their child’s intense treatment schedule can lead to loss of income and other unexpected expenses such as transportation and lodging.
There are a number of national organizations that can provide limited financial assistance for treatment-related expenses, including CancerCare and the National Children’s Cancer Society. You may want to recommend that your friend contact these organizations directly to find out if their family is eligible for assistance. You may also refer them to our fact sheet, Financial Assistance for Children and Teenagers.
It can be challenging to find help with daily expenses, such as rent, utilities and food. There may be local organizations that provide assistance for families facing serious childhood illnesses. The best way to learn about these local organizations is often the social worker at the child’s cancer treatment center. You may want to recommend that your friend find out more about local resources by dialing 211. This number will connect to the local United Way, which can link families to community programs.
Your friend is fortunate to have your support, as cancer treatment can place significant stress on a family. One of the easiest ways that you can help your friend and reduce the stress on this family is to provide practical support. You may want to ask this person directly if there are other ways you can help their family, such as offering to provide child care if there are siblings or running an errand. This type of practical assistance from a friend can provide a measure of relief to caregivers.
A cancer diagnosis has a profound effect on families, and a childhood diagnosis comes with its own unique challenges. It can be difficult to talk to young children about cancer, and to know how to help them communicate their feelings and fears. Your friend may want to check out CancerCare’s fact sheet Supporting a Child With Cancer.
CancerCare’s professional oncology social workers can also help in locating additional financial assistance and provide support and resources around caregiving for a child with cancer (800-813-4673).
Q. About six months ago, my five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia and I had to leave work to take care of her. Now, I'm struggling financially and need help paying the bills. Where can I get help?
Children with cancer typically undergo an intense treatment schedule and their care can become a full-time job in itself for the parent or guardian. Unexpected expenses can range from uncovered treatment costs to transportation and childcare, as well as those of daily living, which also especially difficult to meet when there is a loss of income.
CancerCare, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the National Children’s Cancer Society, offer limited financial assistance for some treatment and treatment-related expenses for eligible families. The American Childhood Cancers Organization also provides a listing of possible resources.
Ask the social worker at your child’s treatment center for information on organizations in your community that assist children with serious illnesses. In addition, many large treatment centers have special funds for children to help defray the cost of treatment and related costs. Make sure you inquire about whether your treatment center has such a fund, and how you might qualify.
Finding help with the expenses of daily living is more challenging. A possible resource includes the 211 referral line of your local United Way which provides links to community programs that may offer financial assistance or practical help. You can also try negotiating payment plans for your monthly bills with your utility company, phone provider and other creditors, who may also offer assistance programs to people in need.
For additional guidance, please read our fact sheet, Sources of Financial Assistance.