Getting a cancer diagnosis is hard. Here are some ways for kids to cope from someone who has been there.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of this month’s theme, I wanted to share my story and some tips I have learned to make the best of my cancer experience. I was diagnosed several years ago after having a lot of pain in my hip, pain so bad I could barely go to sleep. After lots of scans and many tests, the doctors told me I had Ewing Sarcoma. I met so many new people — and heard just as many new words — but all I remember is thinking, “This cannot be happening.”
Below are five practical tips for kids newly diagnosed with cancer, but first I want to tell you: It it does get easier. You learn where to go and who to ask which questions. You learn what you enjoy and what you no longer care to do, eat, see or feel. You learn to laugh when things are funny or awkward or sad because sometimes laughter is all that helps.
1. Ask questions.
When I was first diagnosed, I had a lot of questions, some of them scary and some silly. I made the mistake of googling my cancer. Now I know that the best way to learn more about your specific type of cancer is to ask your doctor or nurse. If they are not around, write your questions down so you can ask the next time you see them. This will help you to become more comfortable with your treatment.
2. Try to get your mind on something else.
Sometimes your mind can think of really scary things, worry you and affect your mood. It’s important to bring fun things to do while you are at the hospital so you are not tempted to start worrying. Invite your friends to visit or keep up with them by calling or texting. Encourage your friends to ask questions if you are comfortable with that because sometimes people are not sure what is OK to ask or say when you are first diagnosed. Try to think positively, especially when you are feeling sick. If you can only think of one good thing, that is enough — think really hard about that one thing.
3. Find some control.
Cancer can change many things and takes away your sense of control, so find something you can control. For me, that was dance. I attend dance class, forget about my treatment schedule, and just move! I use my energy to express anger or sadness without having to use words.
4. Create your new normal.
Cancer treatment can change many aspects of your life. For instance, your taste buds may change, so you may need to try new foods and retire some old favorites. You may have less energy during your cancer treatment, so take a break and rest up for later activities. I had to take the time to rest so my body could recuperate. It’s important to find people who understand what you are going through, so meet new friends who are also going through treatment and attend special events like camp.
5. Find or revive your sense of humor.
I joke about my treatment, play tricks on my nurses and doctors, and find things to laugh about when I really feel sick. When you feel sick and a bit helpless, laughter can bring you back and help you to do the things listed above. I promise there is always something to laugh about.
Cancer is hard. For those newly diagnosed, know that it can bring out strength you never knew you had. For the rest of you, please help us in the fight by spreading awareness and helping us find a cure for all childhood cancers.
This post was written by Mary, who was a patient at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.