By Renata Klabacha, MA, LMFT
September is known to most people as end of summer and back to school time. A few years ago it took on a new meaning; Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. My best friend’s daughter Carolina was diagnosed with leukemia. It was devastating and frightening for my friend and her family. However, Carolina’s treatments have been going very well and everyone is hopeful that it will continue. No small feat for a seven year old, but she’s a sassy, strong warrior. Check out her Facebook page, Carolina’s Cause.
As a mental health professional, I understand that any major health diagnosis can wreak havoc on a family. It is common to cause misbehaviors, drop in grades, conflicts with others, and even depression. Not just in the patient, but siblings as well. Parents may have more arguments due to all the stressors and self-care is extremely important. It is crucial for parents to maintain structure and discipline. This will be very tough, because as parents, during a child’s illness we want to be comforting, not authoritative. However, being that solid rock is exactly what a child needs at this time. It’s critical for the child (and siblings) to understand that rules still apply and that their illness doesn’t give them a pass on good behaviors. That being said, parents will need to learn the new balancing act of assessing misbehaviors, determining what can be ignored or what might be a side-effect and thus, what needs to be addressed. It’s necessary during this time to reach out to support systems and community resources. Mental health counseling with a medical social worker can assist the patient and family in navigating any heartbreaking diagnosis and aid families in creating a new “normal level” of family functioning. The adjustment time for every family will be different, but it can also strengthen the family bond and build resiliency. The social workers or counselors can connect families to support groups, camps, counseling, advocate with insurance plans and psycho-educate about federal or state benefit laws.
So as September comes to an end, please join the event “Turn Facebook Orange and Gold For the Month of September!!!” in order to bring awareness to Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more about childhood cancer, please visit Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They are making tremendous strides in treating children’s cancer through research and community outreach.
Renata Klabacha, MA, LMFT
Child and Family Therapist, Chicago IL.