Doug O’Donnell, second from right, said friends and family provide a support system that keeps he and wife, Lianne, strong through their son’s cancer journey. A group of friends regularly gathers at a family-friendly brew pub owned by a college friend to celebrate the good and lift each other up through the bad.
Until his 4-month-old son, Davis, was diagnosed with cancer, Doug O’Donnell of Fulshear, TX, said he doesn’t recall a time when he had doubted his ability to handle anything.
But when he and his wife, Lianne, learned their baby was diagnosed with a chronic illness, bilateral retinoblastoma, or cancer in both eyes, Doug remembers thinking, “I can’t do this … I’m not strong enough. I can’t lead my family through this.”
But with the love and support of family and friends, as well as a medical team he and Lianne have come to regard as family, Doug has, indeed, been strong enough.
10 Helpful Tips to Taking Care of Yourself when Parenting a Child with a Chronic Illness
From their experience, Doug and Lianne share 10 tips to help parents take a little care of themselves—yes, this is very, very important!—while caring for a child with chronic illness:
1. Find People to Walk Alongside You
“When you come home from hearing that your son has cancer in both of his eyes, it doesn’t feel true that God won’t give you more than you can handle. But the clarity we got was that God did not intend for us to handle this alone. So find people who can help carry the burden with you, and walk alongside you.”
2. Take it Day-by-Day
“A big diagnosis is scary, and you immediately start thinking about lifelong things. Just try not to let the big picture overwhelm you. Take things day-by-day.”
3. Feel the Weight of What You are Going Through
“It is OK to feel the weight of what you are going through. Don’t negate it. Having a son with cancer in both eyes is a big deal. Feeling how hard and difficult and challenging things are makes it possible for you to celebrate small victories.”
4. Have a Little Fun
“It is so important to care of yourself. I have a wonderful husband who takes care of me; I am so thankful. He makes it so I can get out with the girls, and have fun, and just not think about cancer for awhile.”
5. Cry … It’s OK
“Have someone who allows you to get upset. Two nights after we were diagnosed, I went and sat with my buddies at a coffee shop, and I broke down crying. And then we are all crying. I didn’t need any advice, I just needed somebody to just say, ‘Man, that’s tough, but we’re gonna be here for you.’”
6. Lean on Parents Who Know
“Find someone who knows what you are going through. Even if it is not the same diagnosis, another parent who knows the ins and outs of doctors’ appointments, therapies, disappointing news … they can encourage you.”
“Celebrate little things. Even things that seem small. Even news that isn’t as good as what you had hoped for, celebrate that there is some good news in there.”
8. Let Life be Normal
“When you hear ‘cancer patient,’ some people immediately to treat your child differently. But just let them be little children.”
9. Have Faith
“As a father, you want to make sure everything lines up and is working effectively. You can do that with a medical team you can give your trust over to. I put my faith in the work they are doing … it has taken away stress and a level of anxiety.”
10. Appreciate the Good Days
“You’ll find that some days are good, and some days are hard. You have to really appreciate the good days, so that you can keep your head up and fight on the hard days.”
Please Share Your Tips for Staying Strong as a Parent
We’d love to hear what has helped you stay strong while caring for a chronically ill kid. You can tell us (and CaringBridge users everywhere) about any tips and techniques you’ve used successfully and what advice you’d give to other parents. Comment with your ideas and stories below.