When a Child Has Cancer

'When you keep laughing, you won't stop hoping'

No parent or person ever wants to be here. Let me say that. Regardless of the genuine belief by some that this experience will make you stronger, this is not a life situation anyone on this universe would ever choose.

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That said, as a professional child psychologist, I had hoped my education and training would have given me some insulation. It did not. Instead, it was the tried-and-true approach of positive thinking that did.

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When you hear the piercing string of words, “Your child has cancer,” then repeatedly witness your child endure horrifically painful treatments and life-altering surgeries, even after days and weeks of prayers – it will be the power of positive thinking that becomes your strongest weapon.

When you hear the words, “Your child has cancer,” positive thinking will be your strongest weapon.

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That is how it was for us, at least, after Grace was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, on Aug. 1, 2014.  We were told she had a large tumor in her left femur and at least 20 cancerous nodules throughout both lungs.

She endured 18 rounds of inpatient chemotherapy from August 2104 to April. And while that was going on, in October 2014 she underwent a 10-hour Van Ness rotationplasty surgery in which the entire leg section of the tumored bone was removed. The remaining portion of her tibia was rotated 180 degrees and reattached to the remaining femur with her foot facing backwards, which allowed her ankle to function as her knee.

In January and March, she underwent surgeries to remove the tumors from her right and left lungs. She received her first prosthetic leg in February.

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Here’s what we were — and still are — most often asked: How could our lives go on as usual when something so horribly unusual was going on?

Acceptance is not about inaction, but rather the first step in the fight.

Our emotions were all over the place and none of it, none, has been easy. But there are things we knew were still “OK to do,” which helped us stay positive during an incredibly difficult time.

Practice Acceptance
It’s OK to accept what is happening so your energy can shift from denying the reality to fighting the disease. When you want nothing more than for your child to not have cancerous cells in her body, to not have to endure chemotherapy over and over again, to not have to undergo an amputation of the left leg or painful lung surgeries — accept it.

The truth is, it’s more difficult to not accept it, because when you resist feelings of disappointment, sadness, or loss, you add suffering to your pain. Acceptance is not about inaction, but rather the first step in the fight.

Find Strength in Laughter
It’s OK to laugh, especially for your child. We know that many people who passed by the hospital room, with our daughter hooked up to an IV full of chemo, thought us nuts when they heard genuine laughter coming from our room — but we didn’t care. Laughter gave us a diversion, lifting our spirits and even in the thick of it, helping us forget.

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Laughter is necessary, even if it happens through tears. When you keep laughing, you won’t stop hoping.

Accept Help
It’s OK to accept support and caring from others. An organization in our community was created for the very purpose of helping families who have a child with cancer. This welcome next level of comfort and hope was provided by the nonprofit CURE Childhood Cancer, which is dedicated to conquering childhood cancer through funding targeted research and by supporting patients and their families.

We met CURE staff during Grace’s first hospitalization, and the group became a positive and practical source for us throughout the journey. Childhood cancer is a battle like no other — so stay armed and surrounded by people who understand your experience and accept their kindness.

Talk to Yourself Often
It’s OK to tell yourself it will all work out. Positive self-talk produces positive emotions. Called affirmations, they are one- or two-sentence positive statements spoken to ourselves with repetition, and they typically begin with “I am …,”or “I can …,” or “I know …”

Because the process of cancer healing will set off a variety of emotions from hope to fear, anger and sadness, affirmations can have tremendous power over your day-to-day mindset.

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We learn as a kid that most of the time we can’t go over something, under it or around it. Instead, we have to figure out how to go through it — and that is very, very true when faced with a cancer diagnosis for your child. Grace has taught us that when the going gets tough and life throws you cruel curve balls, as long as you possess the right perspective and an unwavering child-like faith, even when faced with the frailty of your own body, courage and strength will be garnered by living your life with a smile on your face.

After surviving the cancer journey, it’s a sure bet that nothing will ever be the same. But the positive attitude that got us — and can help others — through it will be the beacon of light to guide you into the future. It will be different but can still be promising, rewarding and wonderful just the same.

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