How to Make Life Normal For a Child With Cancer
As we’ve mentioned over the past few weeks, September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. We’ve told you about moms who’ve shaved their heads to show their support for kids undergoing treatment and we’ve introduced you to a survivor who’s now herself a grandmother.
Now we’re sharing thoughts from Reiko Meier, a mom in Illinois whose daughter, Zoe, has been fighting cancer for nearly nine years. (There they are in the photo.) We asked Reiko to tell us what she’d want other parents to know–particularly those whose children are in the earlier stages of diagnosis and treatment. This is her advice:
I’ve been blessed to walk down an extremely bumpy path with my 11-year-old daughter Zoe. She was diagnosed at 2 ½-years old with a brain tumor. Four surgeries, chemotherapy, and six weeks of proton treatments later, we fight on. Not only do we fight to eradicate her tumor, we fight to give her as happy and normal a childhood as possible.
The most important advice I give other parents is to keep your child socially connected. It’s crucial, even during treatment or recovery. If that means setting up a playdate where the children are on opposite sides of the room so that your recovering child doesn’t catch a bug, so be it. Put in a movie or have them independently do an activity they can talk about. It is the camaraderie and laughs that make it good for the soul!
It’s also been uplifting for Zoe to play with animals. Just being around our pets makes her happy. Kids who have spent so much time being cared for derive pleasure and confidence by caring for a pet.
Although it can be difficult, have an ongoing activity your child can return to. It fosters both a sense of self and belonging. Zoe started taking dance when she was 4. Although at times we had to skip it, sometimes even for months, she always knew she had something she could return to and be part of.
Talk to the people caring for your child about your needs. They can be a huge spirit-lifting resource. When Zoe was receiving her proton treatments at ProCure, their bubbly nurses played with her and connected with her in a way we could not. Treating the child’s spirit as well as the body is becoming much more common in medicine and it makes treatments much less scary.
In addition to Reiko’s tips, we got an interesting one from of Zoe’s doctors, John Chang, M.D., a board-certified radiation oncologist. For kids undergoing cancer treatment, it’s crucial to challenge them mentally, he says. “One of the most common long-term side effects in children is short-term memory loss,” explains Dr. Chang. “By challenging your child to play memory games, taking extra time to teach them new subjects even if they are out of school for a period of time, and constantly challenging them mentally, you can help them strengthen their cognitive function.”