*This is the second of a two part blog series on parenting through cancer. Here's part one.
Hashing it out with Kyle, my Jack-to-Jack Coach – who’s also a dad.
Kyle, how did you know your kids were getting the support they needed to get through your cancer journey?
No one can know that with 100% certainty, but's it's a noble thing to strive for. Kids rarely have the language tools they need to communicate what's on their hearts. I do my best to keep an open dialogue with them, checking in often, ideally making it something that isn't awkward to talk about. Directly asking them questions like, "How are you feeling about your mom?" Especially after she's been through a particularly difficult treatment.
What have you done to make sure your kids are getting the support they need?
We started sending our kids to Camp Angel and other programs like it as soon as they were old enough to go. And like I said, making sure they get that support at home too, not just at external events or programming. I strive to create a 24/7 safe environment where they feel safe to share what they're up against. Of course, I'm not always successful with that, but who is? We also decided early on to engage them in the process of their mom's care. We noticed they acted strange when her head would get shaved. So, the next time it needed to be shaved, we had them do it together. Of course, at first they were nervous but by the end they were laughing and everyone was having fun with it.
Tell me about the activities that your kids have done through the Angel Foundation and how they've helped the kids - and maybe you.
Often at Angel camp, they do lots of stuff that has nothing to do with cancer. It's all about just being a kid with other kids who are in the same boat. They get "it", whatever "it" is. That stuff is important, because cancer can consume your life and you need to be around people that can empathize but at the same time there's so much more to connect with those people about.
What I remember learning at workshops put on about how kids deal with crisis is that for young children it really is, at least initially, all about them. If their parent isn't safe, then that means they aren't safe. They don't have the words for this, so they just freak out. Or shut down. Or lash out. Fear can do freaky things to people, and kids are no exception. Step one is getting them to understand that whatever happens to their parents, they will be safe. They will be provided for. Only after that can you effectively move on to the next steps of dealing with the other fears they have.
What bit of advice would you have for parents raising their kids in a cancer situation?
I'll give just one tip - remember that the behavior you model for your kids is gonna be the behavior you get from them.
Has the adversity affected your relationship with your kids?
There's so much talk about post-traumatic stress which is a very real and sinister thing, but what I see in my family is post traumatic growth. I believe every family has the potential to experience growth in the wake of a cancer diagnosis.