What might you experience ?

Childhood and teenage cancer is something nobody wants to think about. But practically speaking, around 1 in 330 people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer by the age of 19. Treatment strategies for cancer in young people have come far over the past few decades, and the survival rate has increased from 10% (in the 1970s) to around 90% today. However, the experience can still be very scary, stressful, and exhausting for everyone involved.

If your own child has cancer, or a child in your family or community has cancer, it's likely you'll feel overwhelmed and unsure about how to help. Of course, every kid is different and needs different forms of love and support through such a difficult time. Thankfully, there are some simple things you can do to make things easier for them (and for their parents and families, too). 

This guide will cover:

  • Explaining and coping with emotions
  • Things to do in hospital
  • Getting a good night's sleep
  • Making hospital less scary
  • Help for parents

What can you do about it?

Explaining and coping with emotions

Explaining and coping with emotions

Cancer is a difficult emotional experience for any adult to go through, never mind a child - so it's important to help kids understand what their illness means, and what's going on around them. This will help them to feel less scared and more in control of some of the stressful situations that might come up, such as hospital visits or experiencing the side effects of treatment.

  • Books: Depending on how old the child is, they might find it tricky to understand what "having cancer" means. Luckily, there's a wide range of children's books about cancer out there, many of them written by people who have been affected by childhood cancer themselves. Storybooks with pictures can help younger children to recognise their own situation in the story, and give them something to identify with when things feel scary - and they're also a great way to explain the situation to other children in the family.
  • Journal writing: The emotions involved with cancer can be big, scary and difficult to talk about - and that's just for adults. Just like grown-ups, children can really benefit from writing down their feelings and emotions in a diary or notebook. It can help them to make sense of what's going on, and it could even make it easier for them to discuss their feelings with an adult. Letting them choose their favourite design and a special pen to write with will help make their journal really special and fun to write in. Let your child lead the way; drawing, writing, or dictating to you as they feel comfortable. 
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Things to do in hospital

Things to do in hospital

Staying in hospital can be many things - scary or cosy, quiet or noisy, too warm, too cold, friendly, or anxiety-producing. No matter the hospital, lots of kids find weeks of treatment and bedrest to be, well, a bit boring! If kids are on the ward for a while, they'll definitely appreciate anything that distracts them from where they are and how they're feeling. 

  • Keeping busy: Putting together a little hamper of fun activity books and simple craft projects is a lovely idea for a child who might have a lot of bed rest or waiting around to do as part of their treatment. You can customise the contents of the hamper to include puzzles and activities appropriate to their age, and, of course, anything featuring their favourite characters! Books, films or TV will go down a treat, as will simple craft activities, or pencil crayons and colouring paper. 
  • Tablets and phones: Kids just love technology, and often the easiest way to keep them entertained is with their favourite movie, TV show or game on a tablet or phone. Holding their device for a long time on bed rest can get uncomfortable, especially if the child is feeling weak or unwell. Achy wrists and arms can be avoided using a handy beanbag like the iBeani, which holds a tablet or other device at a comfortable angle for lying down in bed - and they're available in loads of jazzy kid-friendly designs.
  • Music: Listening to music in hospital or when travelling to appointments can help to keep a child cheery and optimistic when they're feeling unwell. And having their own special speaker or headphones can be a fun distraction for nervous kids, too. Cancer Research UK has made a lovely range of child-friendly keychain speakers and headphones, featuring dragons, fairies or unicorns - and each purchase includes a donation to children's cancer research in the price. 
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Getting a good night's sleep

Getting a good night's sleep

Getting kids to stick to a regular sleep schedule can be tricky at the best of times, but cancer brings its own set of night-time challenges, in the form of side effects, anxiety and noisy hospital wards.

  • Sleeping on the ward: If the lights, movement and sounds of the hospital ward are making it hard for a child (or their parents!) to sleep, a good quality sleep mask and some earplugs are a gift idea that will be much appreciated. 
  • Keeping cool: Hot flushes and night sweats are a common side effect of many cancer treatments. And if you've ever spent time in hospital, you'll know that the ward can often be kept at a very warm temperature. If a child is struggling to get to sleep because they're too hot, it might be a good idea to invest in some lightweight, breathable pyjamas made from soft cotton or bamboo material.
  • Another handy sleep solution is the GelO Cool Pillow, which slots into or on top of the child's pillow and keeps their head at a more comfortable temperature. The pillow is naturally cool to the touch, but can also be refrigerated for a short period before use to increase its effect.
  • Sleep routine: Though it might be tempting to allow kids who aren't well to stay up late with the grownups as a treat, keeping to a regular schedule helps to keep children feel secure, and will help kids get the vital rest their bodies need. Try establishing an hour without screens before bed, and add in a couple of regular bedtime treats such as a mug of hot chocolate or reading their favourite book. The continuity of a sleep routine can also help to make hospital feel more like home.
  • Essential oils: Some smells just make you feel all cosy and snuggly inside. Lavender, chamomile and ginger are all popular options for relaxing bubble baths, scented candles and other things that help you get to sleep at home. A much easier way to get the same effect is using a scented balm or lotion. Badger Balm has a great range of scented products including the "Night Night" and "Sleep" balms, which you can apply under your nose, on your wrists or on your temples for a little extra relaxation. 
  • Mindfulness: Anxiety and worries about being unwell or upcoming treatments can take a real toll on a child's sleeping habits. A few mindfulness exercises, like taking deep breaths or imagining yourself in a calm, happy place could be really helpful for kids who are finding it difficult to stop worrying. There are lots of mindfulness books and CDs specifically designed for children, with ideas for calming activities and easy exercises to calm stressed nerves. And they could be helpful for parents too!

 

 

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Making hospital less scary

Making hospital less scary

Whether a child or teenager has to attend an outpatient appointment or stay long-term in hospital, it's probably not the most relaxing or comfortable place for them to be. Though it's natural for anyone to feel homesick during a stay in hospital, a few thoughtful gifts for children with cancer can help make hospital trips feel less scary. 

  • Reminders of home: It might be a photo of their pet in a fun frame, a favourite toy or a blanket they're super attached to. These little reminders can help to normalise the whole experience of being in hospital - just be sure to ask the ward staff first if it's ok for you to bring in your own things, as there may be hospital regulations to protect children with weakened immune systems. 
  • Cuddly friends: Chances are, a cuddly animal may be one of the first things you thought of as a gift for a child with cancer. And they're a great option! Kids love having a little fluffy friend to stay by their side during scary experiences, and you can provide a lot of comfort this way. For a novel twist on your standard teddy bear, you could try one of these Cozy Hotties: cute cuddly animals with a microwaveable beanbag inside. They're perfect for keeping snuggly and warm, and also helpful if a child is having aches or chills. 
  • Pyjamas and slippers: Spending time in a hospital bed means spending time in your PJs, and a set with your kid's favourite cartoon characters or animals on them could really brighten up their day! Likewise, a pair of cute or silly slippers is the perfect accessory for walking around the ward and getting cosy in bed.
  • Buzzy for injections: Having injections when you're younger is no fun at all, but it's likely that a child with cancer will need to have lots of injections and blood tests over the course of their treatment. The Buzzy gadget helps to make injections less scary and painful for younger children, using vibration and cold packs to reduce and distract from the pain felt at the injection site. Getting Buzzy involved in the process of injections can help to make them a less dreaded part of a kid's hospital routine.

 

 

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Helping parents

Helping parents

As difficult as it is for a child to go through cancer, it's just as hard for the family who are supporting them. Attending appointments, managing side effects and worrying about their child is enough to exhaust any parent. So if you know a family going through cancer and want to help out, your practical support might be more meaningful than the sweetest of gifts.

  • Food: Having a kid with cancer is bound to mess up your family routine, and things like food shopping and cooking fresh, healthy meals will often fall to the bottom of the priority list when parents have limited time and energy. You might be able to help out by cooking a batch of healthy freezer meals for the family, or buying them a subscription to a meal delivery service that brings fresh ingredients or healthy pre-prepared meals to their door every week. 
  • Childcare: Brothers and sisters of a child with cancer will be going through a difficult time, too - and parents trying to get to various appointments or spending time in hospital could find themselves struggling to find someone to look after their other children. If you're close to a family affected by cancer, stepping in to look after the kids at home for a few nights, or even having them stay at your house as a fun "holiday" could not only save frazzled parents time and money, but also help to give siblings the attention they might be missing.
  • Organisation: Keeping track of appointments, test results, prescriptions and advice from the doctor can feel like a full-time job in itself. A thoughtful gift idea for parents whose child is going through cancer could be a journal or planner that helps them stay on top of the admin. (The CanPlan is a planner specifically designed for people to track their cancer appointments, test results and progress - and it features sections on side effects, food ideas and motivational quotes, too.)
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Last but not least...

Last but not least...

If you have any ideas or recommendations that would help someone caring for a child with cancer, we'd love to hear them. 

You can share them with us and our whole community on our Facebook or Twitter pages, or by emailing us at theteam@livebetterwith.com. 

  • Check out more of our Community Tips for dealing with side effects, as well as lots of other aspects of living with cancer.