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Although brain tumours occur considerably less often in children than in adults, they are still the second most common cancer in children (after leukaemia). While the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of brain tumours in children are much the same as in adults, children's brain tumours obviously pose a number of different problems.
Effects of treatment
Normal growth and development is obstructed in some children as a result of damage to the part of the brain that produces growth hormones. This damage may be caused by the tumour itself or by the treatment. Hormone therapy may be required.
What do I tell my child?
It is quite natural to want to protect your child from something as threatening as a brain tumour, and some parents will find it very difficult to talk openly to their child about the tumour. Children, however, quickly pick up that something is seriously wrong, whether or not they are told. If you can talk openly and honestly with your child about the brain tumour, do so as this will help your child to be less anxious and to feel a little more in control with the situation. How much your child actually wants to know will depend on his or her age and needs. Children are often satisfied with just a bit of information, or simple answers to their questions. Your openness and calm confidence can help to reassure your child.
How do I treat my child?
Any cancer is hugely disruptive to a child's and family's normal routine. It is also frightening for all concerned, and often uncomfortable or painful for the child. Hospitals, blood tests, large equipment, surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be threatening. Your child, just like you, is likely to feel angry, depressed, confused, afraid or overwhelmed. These feelings will change rapidly.
Your child needs as much security as possible to help him or her to cope. Throughout the course of the illness and its treatment, one of his or her main needs will be for as many things as possible to remain normal and consistent. It is important to continue to show your love and support. It may help to keep rules and discipline as normal as possible because although you may be tempted to spoil your child or relax your usual discipline, this can lead to confusion in the long run. Whether your child is in hospital or at home, try to treat him or her as normally as possible, within the limits of the illness.
What about the rest of the family?
How do you balance the needs and demands of your sick child and those of your partner and other children? There is no easy answer to this problem, but possibly the most important thing is to acknowledge changes, discuss the problems and ask for help when you need it from relatives or friends, from hospital staff or anyone else who can help.
Everyone reacts differently: mothers and fathers, as well as other relatives, often react differently to cancer in a child. One, for instance, may focus on the good news, the other on the bad. Some parents protect themselves by distancing themselves, or getting lost in work, while others cope by being very involved in caring for the child. This sometimes puts a great deal of strain on family relationships, particularly your relationship with your partner, at a time when most need those relationships to be strong.
It is important to recognise that there is no right or wrong way to react or cope: everyone is different. The best way of understanding these differences is to talk about them with your partner, if you can, and to share your feelings of anger, sadness, and hope with each other, without blame or criticism.
If you are going to look after your child with cancer, and balance this with the needs of the rest of the family, you will need to eat and sleep well, and most importantly, have a little time for yourself. Looking after yourself will help you to remain healthy and in control of the situation, and to support your child and family as effectively as possible.
Could I have prevented it ?
Most parents wonder about this and feel guilty, but the answer is most certainly 'NO'. There is no evidence to suggest that parents are in any way responsible for their child's brain tumour.
Who is available to help?
The hospital staff who work with your child will often be people who specialise in working with children. Some hospitals and cancer treatment centres employ play therapists who can help children to work through their fears and feelings and can also prepare them to cope with treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy. If your child has difficulties with speech or movement, the speech pathologist, physiotherapist or occupational therapist may be called in. A number of organizations and parents' support groups offer practical and emotional support for families and children, camps for children and a number of other services.
If you are a teenager with a brain tumour
Your teenage years are times you start to break free from your parents and take charge of your own life. Cancer turns this completely on its head: suddenly you seem to lose all control over your life and parents and doctors take over.
While you need their support and love, you may also thoroughly resent them. One of the most difficult thing to handle is the change to the way you look, particularly if you lose your hair.
It can help to talk over your difficulties with family, friends or someone right outside the situation, such as the hospital social worker.
It can also help to find out how other teenagers have coped, and how they have made themselves look and feel good while they have been having their treatment. There are organizations that you can get involved with to help you to cope. These are run for, and often by, teenagers with cancer.
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