Finding the right words when a child has cancer

When a child has cancer, sometimes a simple text can mean the world

Knowing what to say when a child has cancer can be difficult. Even if you don’t know what to say — say something. What the family needs most is support. Sometimes a simple text message or email can make all the difference.

We asked a mom who has been through it not once, but twice, what types of messages helped her family most when her son, Aiden, was diagnosed with leukemia and spent more than five years in treatment.

What the family needs most is to know they have friends and loved ones there for them. Avoid saying something general like, “Let me know if I can help in any way.” Instead, be specific:

If the person insists they don’t need help, use a more direct approach

“I remember not allowing anyone’s help or handouts, until one family said, ‘Please allow us to help you. It’s our reward and blessing knowing we did something for you,’” said Aiden’s mom, Gena Johnson. “At that moment, we recognized that allowing people to assist with something, whether big or small, is as important to the person doing the task as it is to the person who needs the task done. Allow people to be a blessing to you.”

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Let them know they are not alone and that no response is needed.

Sharing other experiences with cancer isn’t helpful

Avoid sharing another child’s story, whether good or bad. Your friend just received the worst news of their life. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm them with another emotional situation. Plus, every child’s cancer journey is different, even when it’s the same type of cancer, so there is no sense in comparing or contrasting experiences.

Check back

Don’t forget to check in with your friend or loved one weeks and months later. The first few weeks after a diagnosis are survival mode. Then the emotional toll sets in. That’s when the family will need a strong support system. Check in often, even if it’s just to say you are thinking about them.

To families going through it, Gena offers this advice: Allow people to show you kindness. Ask for help, for anything. There is no shame in accepting help. Get answers if you have questions. The hospital staff wants you to have all the information you need. Be an advocate for yourself and your child by asking for the answers you need.”