Advice for Parenting During Cancer Treatment

From telling children about a diagnosis to juggling school and sports schedules with treatment, parents face many unique emotional and logistical challenges when diagnosed with cancer.

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Mother and patient Sarah Silvia (center) sits with her three sons: Dustin, 12, Dominic, 10, and Drew, 5. They are joined by Kelly Drummond, LICSW (left).

Sarah Silvia, a single mom treated at Dana-Farber for lymphoma, recently shared her experience during a live Dana-Farber webchat with Dana-Farber social workers Allison Dibiaso, LICSW, and Kelly Drummond, LICSW. For Silvia, talking with her three children upfront, being honest, and maintaining structures and routines were vital in managing family life during treatment, as was finding childcare and transportation support.

“Families come in all shapes and sizes now,” said Drummond, who was Silvia’s social worker during her treatment, which included a stem cell transplant and more than 20 days in the hospital. “There’s support in so many different forms – grandparents, siblings, friends, and colleagues – and it’s important to reach out to them because they’re there and they want to help.”

One worry parents and children often share, which can be scary for the entire family, is whether the parent is going to die. Silvia, who responded well to treatment, found this conversation particularly difficult, but stressed that her doctors were doing everything possible to make her better.

“Make sure your children feel there’s open communication and they can ask questions,” said Drummond, who helps guide parents in these difficult conversations through Dana-Farber’s Family Connections program. “Getting information from you first and honestly is very important because it builds trust and kids know they can come to you.”

Today, Silvia says her relationship with her boys, who range in age from 5 to early teens, is stronger than ever.

“We’re able now to still talk about cancer – what it did, how it felt – and reflect on where we were a year ago and where we are now,” she said. “It gives them hope.”

View a video of the Aug. 20 chat below. More information on parenting during cancer treatment is available through the Dana-Farber Family Connections Program.

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