It is extremely distressing to the entire family when you discover that your child has leukaemia. Parents can feel emotionally overwhelmed and concerned about how they can help their children while continuing to run their household. The child with leukaemia will be aware of changes to their health which can lead to feelings of anger, guilt, fear, anxiety and sadness.
Families affected by leukaemia must get both the practical and emotional support they need. This applies to the parents, siblings and the affected child.
How Can Parents Find Support?
For the parents to help their sick child it is imperative that they first attend to their own needs. In order to keep the household functioning as best possible, and to receive the emotional support they need, it is necessary to get support from other family members. Such support could include help with shopping or looking after the other children from time to time.
Many hospitals have specialist nurses, social workers and psychologists who can help parents with strategies for coping.
How Do You Explain Leukaemia To Your Child?
It is important not to shield your child from information relating to their leukaemia diagnosis as they will already be aware that they are sick. When information is not adequately and carefully shared it can cause the child to become very anxious and depressed. It is important to talk openly with your child about the illness and its treatment. This information should be age-appropriate and match their ability to understand. You can build trust by listening and responding carefully to all your child’s questions, fears and concerns.
Your child’s treatment team can also assist in explaining the illness and its treatment to your child. The treatment team, which often includes a psychologist, nurse, social worker and child life specialist, can also provide psychosocial support.
What Changes Should You Make Around The Home?
There are several practical changes that you can make around the home that will make life safer and easier for your child and the family. These include:
- Keep passageways and stairs well-lit to avoid slips, trips and falls.
- Remove any loose rugs that could be a trip hazard.
- Make sure that all bathmats are nonslip.
- Provide your child with comfortable clothing that is easy to wear.
- Your child may lose their hair after chemotherapy, so it is a good idea to have a selection of hats, caps and scarves available.
- Keep an easily accessible collection of blankets and quilts as children with leukaemia are often more susceptible to cold.
- Keep disposable gloves handy for doing personal care.
- Keep all medications in a safe place.
- Keep your kitchen well stocked with healthy food.
Protecting Your Child’s Weakened Immune System
Cancer treatment in children is often very aggressive and can severely deplete their immune system which leaves them at a higher risk for infection. There are several things you can do to limit your child getting an infection, including:
- Regular hand washing
- Avoid contact with any sick friends or family members
- Avoid crowded or public places
- Your child might need to avoid pets and animals
- Do not let your child play near freshly laid compost, mulch or piles of leaves or hay
- Regularly sanitise frequently touched items in the home including electrical devices, light switches, door handles and railings.
- Clean your child’s toys thoroughly and often.
- Wear a mask in hospital rooms or when out in public
- Enquire about which vaccines and boosters your child needs. This might include an annual flu shot which should be made from the dead virus.
- If your child (or siblings) attends school or daycare, ask staff to alert you if your child may have been exposed to any disease such as chicken pox, shingles, pink eye or strep throat.
- Encourage your child’s educators to reduce the chance of infection in the classroom, through frequent hand washing and sanitising surfaces.
- Deter your child from doing any activities that could result in cuts or other injuries. Cuts and scrapes need to be cleaned and disinfected immediately.
- Your child should not share utensils or food with anyone.
- Do not undertake any home renovations during your child’s cancer treatment without talking to the doctor.
Personal Care And Hygiene At Home
Immunosuppressed children are very prone to infections while receiving cancer treatment. Practising good hygiene and personal is essential to protect your child. The entire household needs to practice regular hand washing with warm water. This is particularly important before eating, after using the bathroom, after playing with other children or pets or playing outside. Anybody who interacts with your child should be encouraged to do the same.
Nutrition And Food Safety
It is essential for your child to receive good nutrition while receiving cancer treatment. Healthy food choices can help your child feel better and recover faster.
Children with leukaemia often have special nutritional needs. It is important to discuss the right food choices with your child’s healthcare team.
Because children receiving leukaemia treatment have weakened immune systems, it is important that they do not eat any food that is spoiled or undercooked which could expose them to harmful bacteria.
Promoting Healthy Sleep
Sleep is a vital part of healthy childhood development and adequate sleep is essential in those recovering from treatment. Sleep can be encouraged by creating a comfortable sleeping environment and a good bedtime routine.
Safe Ways For Your Child To Play
Play is a vital part of a child’s development as it is the environment in which they learn, explore, and process their emotions. Playing also allows your child to exercise and socialise with other children, which promotes a sense of physical and emotional well-being.
Talk to your healthcare team about safe ways for your child to play that will not compromise their health.