How do you treat your child like a “normal” kid after treatment for a serious illness?

Is “normal” just a setting on the washing machine?

Is it possible to treat a child who has undergone cancer treatment as a normal kid? My immediate reaction is absolutely not! Even after completing treatment almost four years ago, I cannot do it no matter how hard I try.

Returning to “Normal”

I vividly remember one scene in the month following our return home from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

My oldest son was required to attend our church’s weekly Lenten services each Wednesday evening. I accompanied him to each service. I was still in a very emotionally “fragile” state of mind. At St. Jude, we met and felt a bond with one child who was literally dying. I had bonded with several families and with many children, a few of whom had already passed. But at this juncture, this particular child was in peril and it was emotionally devastating. I cried at every Lenten service.

One evening in particular, I continued to cry until I got into the car with my son. I began to apologize to him for being so emotional and for possibly embarrassing him by my inability to “hold it together.” He was kind, but in a matter of fact tone stated: “Mom, it’s over now!” It was an endearing comment. However, right then and there, I recognized that worrying about my daughter’s health might never actually be “over” for me. I’ll most likely continue to worry about a recurrence of the cancer and all sorts of treatment-related side effects.

Worrying about my daughter’s health might never actually be “over” for me.

Whenever my daughter becomes sick, even with minor illnesses, I am more protective of her than I am of my other three children. Whenever she says her head hurts, or her legs feel funny, I go on high alert. I watch her like a hawk. And I’m fairly certain that I am not alone in this regard.

Overprotecting or Just Protecting?

Admittedly, I have kept her home from school on several occasions when I knew she wasn’t really sick. When “fake-itis” is her mood du jour, I indulge her stay-at-home day to love her exclusively. There have even been a few occasions when, upon returning from out of town, I have let her stay at home to catch up on “Mom time” and to give her extra TLC.

In the grand scheme of things, I believe that the security and connection that she enjoys outweighs the negatives of missing a day at school. My experiences with my older children have taught me that missing a day in elementary school isn’t as crucial as a day missed in high school.

I can definitely see where children who have been through this situation may feel a bit entitled to continued special treatment. If being constantly supported and loved and given special consideration when coping with childhood cancer leads to a need for a different kind of therapy for her (I mean “couch therapy,”) I will be happy to accept that consequence. I’d rather be accused of overprotecting my child rather than under-protecting her.

Tell Us About Your Experience

As a friend of CaringBridge, I’d like to hear your thoughts on helping a child who has been through such an extraordinary experience make the transition to a “normal” existence. Everyone in the CaringBridge community would value your story of coping with childhood cancer, so please share them with us today.

Berit Kyllo Francis, a registered nurse, lives in Orono Minnesota with her husband and four children. Berit is a member of the CaringBridge Advisory Council and is highly involved as a volunteer with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Berit also enjoys writing, running, golf, yoga, fashion and spending time with friends.

  • Chris

    I was just talking to my husband about how to let our son be “normal” again, when I logged on and saw this post. I can totally relate to how you feel. Our son Jacob was diagnosed with Luekemia in May of 2011. He is still receiving monthly chemo, but has returned to school. However, I still keep him in his “bubble” at home. He just goes to school and sometimes to his brother’s sporting events. I am just so scared of him getting sick this time of year. Everytime we try to do something like a trip or visit family he seems to get sick. He had Pneumonia 24 hrs before our Make A Wish trip to Disney this past November. We were totally shocked, we were stil able to go, but needless to say we were nervous the entire time. Just visiting with family this past weekend he now has a cold and we kept him home from school. We have to think twice before taking him anywhere, movies, out to dinner, or just letting him have friends over. We always worry. I won’t even let anyone else watch him, just me and my husband. With each sniffle, cough and just looking tired, I start to worry. I don’t know that life will every be “normal” again. It will just be a new “normal”. We have about 8 more yrs to worry and hope it doesn’t come back. I just don’t know how to move on. I am always back in the hospital in my mind. We spent 8 weeks in the hospital with a serious mold infection that was life threatening. I treasured the time we spent alone with no distractions. Sometimes I just want to keep him home to just be us and hang out like we used to. I realize it’s not fair to him and he should go to school and have fun. He feels great, but how do you let them go. I would keep him in his “bubble” forever, but I have to learn to let go. Glad to know I am not alone and that these feelings are “normal”……..

  • otis

    your a loving and caring mother,d ont let any one take that away from you! God blss you and your family.BY the way send me some of those cute pic,