Cancer diagnosis in a child is often devastating news to a family. Life is never the same for a family with a child with cancer. Although the bright side of childhood cancers is that it is curable. But unfortunately, the psychological effects of childhood cancer may be long-lasting.
Psychological impact of childhood cancer
The children experience a period of missing educational opportunities and decreased social interaction with peers during the treatment. Frequent hospital stays and painful medical treatments can be trying. There is also a tiny subset of individuals who need intense CNS-directed therapy, such as brain radiation or neurosurgery; these patients occasionally develop psychological problems in late adolescence and in adulthood.
Once the treatment is completed, there is always a fear that the disease will return after treatment. The challenge of returning to normal life could lead to yet other psychological issues.
A study found that 75-80 per cent of childhood cancer survivors do not encounter serious issues. But just a few children experience symptoms. The most prevalent problems include substance misuse (addiction), anxiety, depression, poor attention, feeling inferior (inferiority complex), adjustment disorders, antisocial behaviour, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Low academic accomplishment, poor professional pay, disability status, and marital problems are a few societal elements that can also have an impact on survivors.
Hence, understanding the emotional and psychological health of the child is very vital during as well as after the completion of treatment.
Role of the parents, family or caregivers for children with cancer
The parents and near family members are the immediate care providers of a child. It is important for the family to first understand the problem and course of treatment. This is facilitated by regular and scheduled counselling sessions with the treating team (pediatric oncologist, child psychologist, and medical social worker). It is important for parents to provide tender loving warm care which adds a sense of support to a child. Keep in mind these tips while taking care of a child with cancer:
1. Do not restrict them from physical activities unless the doctor has advised doing so. Physical well-being can promote psychological well-being.
2. Going outdoors like in parks or open spaces is fine. It is advisable to stay away from crowded areas.
Also read: How are childhood cancers different from adult cancers?
3. Try to avoid prolonged screen time and indoor isolation.
4. Engage them in household activities like cooking, organizing the house, reading the news to everyone, etc. It will help them keep busy and avoid stress.
5. Encourage them in art activities like sketching, colouring, music, and dance.
6. In the case of teenagers, there are very curious about the disease, it is ok to sit and explain them clearly rather than conceal it.
7. Do not instil fear of disease in them, instead boost their self-confidence to beat the problem.
8. Engaging them in social activities after the treatment completion would help overcome their hesitancy.
9. Adolescents and adults with childhood cancers, need emotional, moral, and social support. Remember this!
10. Vocational and occupational support is very vital.
Role of health care professionals
It is crucial that the child receives nursing care that is child-friendly and with a good team of medical specialists. The child’s ability to cope emotionally and psychologically is guided and strengthened by the psychological assessment at baseline and throughout the treatment. In addition to the doctor; child psychologists, play therapists, nurses, medical social workers, and nutritionists all contribute significantly to a kid’s treatment journey being as easy as possible.
Role of the community
Children and adults who have recovered from cancer must be reintegrated into society. It is very important for the community to actively embrace them. Also, it is vital to provide vocational, occupational, and social opportunities. Once a child is cured and is a long-term survivor, they are likely to be just as productive as their peers and are very likely to have any active disabilities.