Opinions: professional, survivor and kids

July 28, 2008

I have posted before that I am involved with the non-profit organization Kids Konnected . The kids and I started attending meetings 2 years ago during my treatment. My son does not attend anymore, but my daughter is a teen leader and still is active with the teen group, so we attend every other Monday. Lynnette Wilhardt, MSW, LCSW is the Clinical Director and a specialist in Psycho-Social Oncology Counseling. I asked Lynnette if she would be willing to write some guest posts or articles for the site. She has given me the top questions most often asked of her regarding cancer and how it affects children. I will publish a few at a time over the next few weeks.

Should I bring my child with me to the hospital/or let them visit me when I am there?

Yes, I think it can be helpful for most children to visit their parent in the hospital. Most children find it comforting to see for themselves what is actually going on with their parent. If left to their imagination, they will often come up with something that may cause them far more stress. Children are very adaptable and if primed about what to expect, such as tubes, machines, etc., most will find the experience more helpful than scary. I think it sets a good tone regarding the parent’s illness that it is a family experience and that everyone goes through it together and will support one another. If your child is struggling with separation anxiety over the idea of you going into the hospital, it can be helpful to them to be reassured that they will be able to visit you. Making cards and gifts for the ill parent can help give the child something to do and focus on while the parent is away.

If a child refuses to go, they should not be forced to go. However, they should be asked why they don’t want to go and the caregiving parent should help explore their feelings about it to dispel any myths they may have regarding it. If a parent is terminally ill and it may be the child’s last chance to see the parent to say, “Good-bye,” then the child should be strongly encouraged to go including explaining to the child that it may be their last interaction with their parent.

This past Monday at the group, a woman who will be having her Mastectomy this week asked about bringing her children to the hospital. My children D then 6 and N then 13 did come to visit me in the hospital after my mastectomy. I originally wanted them to come to see me, but when D came in I saw the look of fear on his face and I felt so bad. Then when he and N came back up after she got out of school I was in extreme pain and they had to give me the pain meds in front of them. I am petite, I had to explain that if I started to not make sense, I was okay – it was just the pain meds. My opinion to this Mom was that if the kids were going to come to see her – perhaps someone should go in the room prior to make sure that she had her meds and was “ready” for the visit. This may be my attempt/wish in hindsight to control the situation and try to spare the kids any additional discomfort. I discussed these feelings with Lynnette and she felt that even though the kids were frightened she still felt that it was better that they did come to see me.

This week I decided to ask both kids, now that time has passed and I am healthy what their opinion is:

N said “no one was going to stop me from seeing you.” She did not want to hear my voice on the phone – she said that she needed to physically see me to know that I was alive and that I was going to be okay. She said that it was not as much scary as sad. She also remembered that they got to eat the chocolate that others had brought me. Chocolate does make everything better!!!

When I asked D what his opinion was, he said that it was good and bad when he came to see me. Good because he got to check on me, but sad to see me so sick and hooked up to the machines. He told me that is why when he sat in the room he looked everywhere around the room but not at me because it was too sad. I asked him if he was scared and he said “yes” scared and sad.

As with any situation and opinion there is no RIGHT answer. So much depends on knowing our own children, their ages, their anxiety level and our specific medical situation.

What are some of your opinions on this question?