When a parent gets sick – especially with a terminal illness – it can be a difficult situation for children to handle. For those who are close to their mother and father, there’s likely to be a tough road ahead, especially when mesothelioma is the illness being dealt with. Mesothelioma cancer is a particularly aggressive malignancy characterized by debilitating symptoms, a quick downhill slide, and a variety of emotions ranging from depression to guilt. It’s difficult to watch a parent try to cope with this burden.
Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
If you are the child of a cancer victim – no matter what your age – you’ll no doubt find your parent’s diagnosis shocking and may have a hard time believing that this disease has touched someone so close to you. That’s a normal reaction. Both patients and family members deal with denial at the beginning of a journey with cancer but, for most, this stage will pass fairly quickly as the realities of coping with the disease come to light.
The average age of a mesothelioma disease victim is 60, according to most studies. That’s because the disease has a long latency period and most victims are not diagnosed until 20-50 years after exposure occurs. This late onset can be both a blessing and a curse. Some older asbestos cancer victims can look back at their life and be thankful that most of it was spent cancer-free. On the other hand, the later onset means that your parent may also be dealing with co-morbidity issues that are common among older folks like diabetes, heart disease, and more. These can make treating their cancer more difficult.
Thankfully, it is fairly rare that a small child has to deal with a parent that has mesothelioma, though there are certainly more young people that develop the disease than there were in the past. As a matter of fact, some scientists theorize that the age of onset is dropping due to cases of secondary exposure to asbestos. If that is the case, more and more children will soon be touched by the disease as their younger parents confront a mesothelioma diagnosis.
For these children, abundant support will be necessary as they come to grips with the reality of the situation that they are faced with. There are many schools of thought as to how to help children cope with a parent’s cancer diagnosis and most families will have to find the one that is right for them. Determining when and how to tell a child about their parent’s cancer will depend on the child’s age and his temperament. Therefore, the family may need to seek some help in order to learn how to do this in the best way possible.
Most professionals encourage families to allow the child to remain active in the life of the patient, even when sickness has taken its toll on body and spirit. Interaction is important for both the parent and the child(ren) and most psychologists stress that children will not be “scarred for life” because of it. Many believe that it is a good lesson on the cycle of life and that children of terminal patients learn to appreciate the preciousness of life as well.
Finding Helpful Resources for Coping
Often, it’s necessary to look outside of one’s family for help in dealing with the emotional issues of having a parent who is dying of cancer. As supportive as families can be, professionals are sometimes needed to fill in the gaps.
Many find that it’s sometimes necessary to consult a counselor or therapist to help sort out the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis. For school-aged kids, this might be a trusted school counselor. For those connected with a religious organization, family members may be able to solicit the assistance of a minister or rabbi who can help the child understand the spiritual aspects of sickness and death.
In addition, organizations such as The American Cancer Society offer books, pamphlets, and other printed or online materials that can help children of all ages (even adults) deal with a parent’s cancer and their impending death. Parents can read them to their younger children or present them to older children and teens that need help navigating this tough road.
Your local hospital may also have groups for children of various ages who are dealing with a parent who has mesothelioma or any other kind of cancer. Once the parent has passed on, groups that help children deal with grief are also available. In most cases, adults also have access to similar therapy groups.Sources
National Cancer Society: Coping with a Parent with Cancer