When a Child Has Cancer
“I was overcome by feelings of hopelessness. I felt as if the ground beneath my feet had given way. I began to experience feelings of grief, as if my little girl were already dead.”—Jaílton, when he discovered that his daughter had cancer.
LEARNING that your child has cancer can be an overwhelming, even terrifying, experience. How often does it occur? According to the International Union Against Cancer, although “childhood cancers represent a small percentage of all cancers, each year more than 160,000 children [worldwide] are diagnosed and cancer is the second most common cause of death, after accidents, among children in developed countries.” For example, “there are an estimated 9,000 new cases of childhood cancer each year” in Brazil, states the National Institute of Cancer.
Childhood cancer strikes “a terrible blow that afflicts, without exception, all the members of the family,” says the book À margem do leito—A mãe e o câncer infantil (At the Bedside—The Mother and Child Cancer). The diagnosis often means surgery, as well as chemotherapy or radiation or both, along with their unpleasant side effects. For the parents, it brings trauma, giving rise to fear, sadness, guilt, anger, and denial. How can parents cope with this painful experience?
A major source of comfort is, of course, caring medical professionals. “They can add facts that may be encouraging, as well as explain and anticipate certain future side effects. This information may make the experience less traumatic,” says a doctor from New York who has assisted many cancer patients. Much comfort can also be given by other parents of children who have had cancer. With that in mind, Awake! interviewed five such parents who live in Brazil.
● Jaílton and Néia “We learned that our daughter had acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was two and a half years old.”
How long did the treatment last?
“She underwent chemotherapy for nearly two and a half years.”
What side effects did she experience?
“She vomited a lot and lost her hair. The enamel on her teeth darkened. And on three occasions she developed pneumonia.”
How did that make you feel?
“At first we panicked. But when we saw her health improve, we became confident that she would be cured. She is now almost nine years old.”
What helped you to deal with this traumatic situation?
“Without a doubt, it was our trust in Jehovah God, who ‘comforted us in all our tribulation,’ as the Bible states at 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4. Our Christian brothers and sisters also gave us marvelous support. They wrote letters of encouragement, they phoned, they prayed with us and for us, and they even helped us financially. Then, when our daughter had to be moved to a hospital in another state, the Witnesses there provided us with accommodations and took turns taking us to the hospital. Words cannot convey our gratitude for all the support we received.”
● Luiz and Fabiana “In 1992 we learned that our daughter had a rare, aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She was 11 years old.”
What was your initial reaction?
“Denial. We could not accept that our girl had cancer.”
How was she treated medically?
“She had both surgery and chemotherapy, the effects of which drained us all physically and emotionally. Twice our daughter had pneumonia. The second time she almost died. She also developed a platelet deficiency, which led to random bleeding from her skin and nose. Medication helped to reduce this reaction.”
How long did the treatment last?
“It was about six months from the initial biopsy to the last cycle of chemotherapy.”
How did your daughter feel about her diagnosis and treatment?
“Initially, she did not know what was happening. The doctor told her she had ‘a little round ball in her stomach that needed to be removed.’ Finally she realized that it was rather serious. ‘Daddy, do I have cancer?’ she asked. I struggled to find the right reply.”
How did you feel seeing your daughter suffer?
“It is not easy to describe the emotional pain we went through. Imagine, for example, watching your little girl help the nurse find a vein for the chemotherapy. During the most difficult periods, I would go into the bathroom to cry and pray. One night I felt so distraught that I asked Jehovah to let me die instead of my little girl.”
What helped you to deal with the situation?
“A major factor was the support we received from our Christian brothers, some of whom phoned from different parts of the country. One dear brother asked me to get my Bible. Then he warmly read some verses from the book of Psalms. Those texts were just what my wife and I needed to hear, for we were going through one of the most difficult periods of our daughter’s treatment.”
● Rosimeri “My daughter was four years old when she was diagnosed with a form of leukemia.”
What was your first reaction?
“I found it hard to believe. I wept day and night and begged God for help. My other daughter also suffered emotionally when she saw just how ill her sister was. In fact, I had to send her to my mother’s house.”
What side effects did your little girl experience?
“Her daily sessions of chemotherapy made her anemic, so doctors also gave her iron supplements and erythropoietin to build up her red blood cell count. Her blood count was a source of constant concern. She also had seizures.”
How long did the treatment continue?
“She went through two years and four months of intensive chemotherapy. During that time, she lost her hair and put on a lot of weight. Fortunately, her sense of humor helped her cope. After about six years, the doctors said that my daughter no longer showed any signs of the disease.”
What helped you to deal with this very trying situation?
“My daughter and I prayed often, and we reflected on Bible examples of faithful servants of God who endured various trials. We also took to heart Jesus’ words at Matthew 6:34 that we should not allow anxiety about tomorrow add to our concerns of today. Much help also came from fellow Christians, including the local Hospital Liaison Committee, and from caring medical staff, who regularly deal with such situations.”
Has childhood cancer struck someone you know, perhaps even a child in your family? If so, may these interviews help you to understand that your grief is normal. As the Bible says, there is “a time to weep.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Above all, be assured that the true God, Jehovah, who is called the “Hearer of prayer,” will comfort all those who turn to him with a sincere heart.—Psalm 65:2.
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Bible Verses That Comfort
“Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today.”—Matthew 6:34, Contemporary English Version.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation.”—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.
“Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:6, 7.
“Throw all your anxiety upon [God], because he cares for you.”—1 Peter 5:7.
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A Loving Arrangement
Hospital Liaison Committees for Jehovah’s Witnesses seek to promote hospital and patient cooperation. To that end, they help Witness patients find competent doctors who respect their desire to heed the Biblical injunction, “abstain from . . . blood.”—Acts 15:20.
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Néia, Sthefany, and Jaílton
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Luiz, Aline, and Fabiana
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Aline and Rosimeri