One of our church’s pastors, Matt, and his wife Carrie have been living in the shadow of cancer since December 2009, when their oldest child, Ian, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia at the age of 3 ½ .
Matt vividly recalls the moment the doctor gave them the diagnosis.
“Acute leukemia were not the words we expected to hear,” Matt says. “In my mind, I equated that (diagnosis) with death and I thought I was going to lose my son.”
Later that night after the frightened couple put Ian and younger brother Nathan, then 1 ½ , to bed they joined hands and “told God we fully gave Ian to Him,” Carrie recalls.
“We prayed for our marriage to be able to withstand the stress that was about to come upon us,” she adds.
Ian underwent six phases of aggressive chemotherapy over more than three years and was in and out of the hospital for treatment and its debilitating side effects.
I recently asked Carrie and Matt how they helped their young family, which now includes a daughter, Quinn, see God at work in the midst of this trial.
“We openly discussed our fears and when we felt alone and even distant from God,” Carrie explains. “We also served in our ‘cancer community’ by showing God’s love in practical ways to others who were suffering, too.”
A couple of years ago, Ian and his family loaded up their van to go out to eat and celebrate his third cancer-free anniversary. Carrie recalls: “I noticed Ian sitting there with his eyes closed and hands folded. I wasn’t sure if he was praying, so I asked him if he was OK.”
“Yes,” was the young survivor’s reply. “I was just thanking God that I’m still cancer-free.”
On February 27, 2018–five years after Ian finished treatment– doctors officially pronounced the 11-year-old CURED! He and his extended family joyfully celebrated with a Disney cruise vacation.
Every year nearly 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer and worldwide about a quarter of a million kids get that bad news. That’s a new child diagnosed with cancer every three minutes.
Statistics are not compiled for how many parents of minor children get cancer, but about 3.2 million of the U.S. adults diagnosed annually are ages 21-55 and therefore likely to still have kids at home. And that’s not even counting all of those cancer patients with young grandchildren.
However you add it up, there are a millions of families facing cancer with children.
So how can you best help the children in your life? Fred Rogers has been quoted as saying: “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.” So here are my recommendations written in an A- B-C style in honor of my hero, Mister Rogers:
- Allow your feelings to be seen—even the sad ones. Obviously, it’s our job to help our children with their feelings, not vice versa, but if you want them to see how God is walking with you, you’ll need to share your struggles at times. It’s OK for children to know that sometimes we are afraid or angry or worried because then we can show them how a Christ-follower seeks God’s help with those feelings.
- Be age-appropriately honest. Don’t tell all the statistics, but do use the word “cancer.” If you don’t, it may seem as if the word is too scary to even utter. It isn’t. Take away some of its supposed power by naming it as simply another illness. Sometimes when we don’t tell children the difficult truth, they imagine something even worse.
- Create ways kids can give of themselves. Let them make cards or little gifts for the one facing cancer. Encourage them to pray specifically for that person every day. If the child is the one with cancer, follow Ian’s family’s lead and minister to others going through hard times. It’s so much easier to get our minds off our own troubles when we reach out to others.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. We never told our girls “Mommy will be fine” because there was no such guarantee. We did promise them that the doctors would do everything they could to make me well, I would do everything to get well and that we expected I would become well.
- Empower them by praying for them and with them—as in out loud and not just at mealtimes. Show them how to trust God even when we don’t like our situation. Don’t promise them that the one with cancer will be healed, but promise them that the One who created that person loves him/her with an everlasting love and will never leave them.
Facing cancer with children can be a wonderful first-hand lesson of the supernatural power of God in our lives. Help guide them to the path of peace as the Lord guides you there, too. The positive impact of this journey can be seen for generations to come.
Our children will serve Him;
future generations will hear the story of how the Lord rescued us.
They will tell the generations to come
of the righteousness of the Lord,
of what He has done. Psalm 22:30-31 The Voice Bible
Adapted from a chapter in Peace in the Face of Cancer, copyright 2017 by Lynn Eib.
(For parents with cancer, I recommend When a Parent Has Cancer: A Guide to Caring for Your Children by Dr. Wendy Harpham. For parents of children facing cancer, I recommend Chase Away Cancer: A Powerful Story of Finding Light in a Dark Diagnosis by Ellie Poole Ewoldt.)
If the music video doesn’t appear, use this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uy2EtG3UkL8