The start of a new school year has always been challenging. Your family has to make the difficult transition from summer hours to early mornings and long days. You spend weeks of racing to get school supplies and clothes and then are met with nights of balancing extracurriculars and homework. And on top of that, as a parent of a child battling cancer, you are always thinking about your child’s health and safety. “Are they going to be okay? Do they have everything they need?” “Should I follow up with the doctor one more time? What is considered ‘safe’ for my particular child?” and many more questions that are unique to families of children with health issues.
And this year is no exception. In fact, this school year may be feeling like the hardest one yet. COVID-19 has sent our nation through a loop. With schools pushing back start dates and deciding between in-person and virtual learning, it has been hard to get a grasp on a plan. Everyone is questioning “What is the best thing for my child?” This may be a question that you have felt arduously aware of, both long before COVID-19 and a thousand times more since its start. You’ve managed flu and cold seasons, deciding whether your child can go to school or needs to stay home because of their particular vulnerabilities, but having a worldwide pandemic strikes a different set of concerns for your family. So let’s talk about that. How can you make the best decisions for your family without feeling the overwhelming impact of a pandemic on a daily basis?
First, look at what you know and what you need to know. Some school systems have chosen virtual learning, others are returning to in-person, and some schools are creating a hybrid schedule. Schools are trying their best to make plans that are safest and most beneficial for their student body. Your child is a part of that. If you have questions or concerns, reach out to your school counselor or administrator to advocate for your needs and gain more clarity on the situation. This may also include reaching out to your pediatrician or oncologist to ask for their assistance on questions you have. As you’re doing this, remember you’re not the only one with questions- make sure you are touching base with your child as well. Make time to address your child’s questions and worries, providing answers that you can and even sometimes letting them hear, “I don’t know”. You’re not expected to have every answer. And that’s okay. Make a plan with your child about how you can get the answers and how you can support each other.
As you’re figuring out answers, find ways to be flexible. This is easier said than done. It can be comforting to have a strict schedule with school, doctor’s appointments, nighttime routines, etc. However, this school year is probably putting that schedule to the test already (even if you haven’t started school yet). Give yourself permission to not have to stick to the schedule. If that means staying up a little later one night, that’s okay. That can mean giving your child extra screen time so that they can Facetime a friend they haven’t seen in a while. That’s okay. It may mean that when one day feels like it goes wrong in every way, you have to just start over the next day, and that’s okay. A bad day or a bad week isn’t going to ruin everything your family has been working hard on. Be gentle with yourself and your family.
Don’t forget to acknowledge what is working. Having cancer during a pandemic is no easy task, to put it extremely lightly. However, you have developed skills and strategies that work for your family. If having a walk after dinner helps your family be in a better mood, go on a walk! If you noticed that your child needs quiet time each morning, find ways to make that space in their routine! You and your family have been through many changes over the past few months and you have made it to this point. You have the ability to make it through the tough days that lie ahead.
Utilize the help that is available. CURE is an organization dedicated to conquering childhood cancer through raising money for targeted research while being a support system for cancer patients and their families. They provide encouragement and much more for families experiencing the difficult journey of cancer treatment. You can read more about their organization HERE.
While it all may feel overwhelming right now, that feeling will not last forever. This school year will come and go, just like all the rest. Ask for help and clarification when you need it and don’t be afraid to not have all the answers. Find ways to be flexible so that your family is able to keep moving forward. Highlight what has been working and don’t let those things slip from your sight. While this school year is different and intimidating, it does not have to stand in your way. And, as always, call us today if you would like to learn more about Waters Edge Counseling and how we can help.