Ahead of International Childhood Cancer Day on 15th February, national children’s cancer charity Childhood Cancer Ireland has announced a new series of workshops to help parents to overcome the trauma of a childhood cancer diagnosis. Approximately 353 children, adolescents and young adults are diagnosed with cancer every year in Ireland and will benefit greatly from this emotional support.
The first workshop, entitled “Putting the pieces back together: understanding the experience and taking steps forward”, will take place in Sligo on 11th March and aims to help parents begin to process the emotional rollercoaster they have been on since their child was first diagnosed.
Laura Cullinan, CEO of Childhood Cancer Ireland and parent of a childhood cancer survivor, describes the experience of parents.
“To hear the words ‘your child has cancer’ is devastating and it has a huge impact on the entire family. Depending on the type of cancer a child has, families could be in treatment for up to 3.5 years, with further scans and check-ups after that which prolong the anxiety and fear. As a parent, it’s like you are holding your breath during this time. Your worst fears have been confirmed and you don’t know what’s coming next. Many of us only begin to breathe again after treatment has ended.”
In the earlier stages of childhood cancer, parents are often in ‘doing’ mode; managing medical appointments, being away from home for extended periods, arranging childcare for other children and organising financial commitments and work. They are running on empty and with minds that are in a constant alert and vigilant state and they can get stuck in this position well after treatment ends.
“We listened to parents tell us they were struggling and we have put these workshops together to help figure out what has been happening since we heard those dreaded words, and to provide some strategies to help them both as an individual and as a parent. As parents, we often put ourselves last but we have to prioritise our own wellbeing in order to help our children deal with what they have been through. In our case, we were travelling from Roscommon to Dublin with a sick child, leaving a 6-year-old and a baby at home either with a relative, childminder or family friend. As a parent, it is really difficult to feel so torn and parent-child bonds can be affected with the siblings who are left at home. It can take time to rebuild and to deal with the trauma that the whole family has been through,” continued Cullinan.
Nationally, an average of 353 children, adolescents and young adults (aged up to 24 years) are diagnosed with cancer each year in Ireland. Childhood Cancer Ireland is the national parent and survivor-led charity representing the voice of children and young people with cancer, survivors and their families. As a parent and survivor-led organisation, we understand the impact that a diagnosis of childhood cancer has on the entire family.
On this workshop, Childhood Cancer Ireland will be joined by Dr Mairead Brennan, Senior Clinical Psychologist with Cancer Care West, a cancer support centre in Galway, where she developed the child and family service and by Debbie Cullinane from Claremorris, a qualified Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, Play Therapist and former primary school teacher.
The full list of parent workshops, as well as the programme and registration can be found at https://childhoodcancer.ie/parent-workshops/
Childhood Cancer Ireland received funding from the AIB Community Fund and the Aviva Community Fund to develop and deliver this workshop series.