Few things in the world are more difficult to hear than, “your child has cancer.” The fears, questions, and desperation roll in like a tidal wave. Even if you have not directly experienced these emotions yourself, you can still easily support and come alongside parents dealing with a difficult cancer diagnosis for their child.
While the news is fresh and the shock has not worn off, parents may need help with everyday necessities, especially if there are other children in the home. Laundry, groceries, rides to school, and preparing meals are some of the more immediate concerns. You can even take over making phone calls or sorting mail—anything that allows the parents to focus on their child and begin trying to wrap their mind around the news. Help with these practical tasks is not just for the first days after the diagnosis, however. Treatments and caring for a sick child later in the cancer journey is time consuming, and help might be needed during this time as well. Ask if there is a task that needs attention, or better yet, jump in when you see a need.
You do not need to pretend to understand or try to have answers. Be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on when needed. Give parents the guilt-free opportunity to say how they feel and to grieve the reality of their situation. Every person deals with tragic news a bit differently; there is no "right" way to respond. Refrain from making statements such as "Don't say that," or "You shouldn't feel that way." Remind your friends that if they need you, you will always be available. Just be sure to recognize the importance of confidentiality. If parents share their fears with you, they trust you. Keep it between you.
The Long Haul
It’s not uncommon for friends and acquaintances to rush to the aid of parents when there is a new cancer diagnosis. But in addition to a rush of support, these parents need friendship and support four months later, six months later, a year later, and more. They need friends who are there to celebrate the victories and cry along with the setbacks.