Coping with Cancer: Tools for You and Your Child

Hello Sweetheart,

Oh, I wish I had a “tool belt” filled with skills for coping with cancer. During the year when my child was sick with cancer I would have been ready to pull those tools out right when I needed them!  But no one can ever be prepared to hear the words, “Your child has cancer.” No one is ready to jump into that battle and no one gets through the journey without having to figure things out or make decisions without the proper research or perfect insight. Coping with cancer is just not a skillset many of us naturally have!

As you see when you read my book Hoping and Coping: How My Darling Little Son and I Broke Free of Cancer, I was definitely NOT always equipped with what I needed as a parent and a care-giver to cope with cancer! Maybe that’s you, too, feeling ill-equipped, overwhelmed, utterly lost and wondering where the solutions will come from.

Things I Learned About Children and Coping with Cancer

Yousef 12 years

Over the next few posts I want to share some of what I learned in the years since my child was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Of course I know that not all of it will apply to you – every child and parent has a different journey. I am sure that in some ways you are far ahead of me already.

Even if you’ve heard some of this before, as Tony Robbins used to say “repetition is the mother of skill.”  Hearing and practicing the same things over and over can literally change your mind. Neuroscience has shown us how true that is. Our brains can change our minds. So, if what I am saying repeats things you’ve heard or read elsewhere, that’s good. Coach Steve Chandler says that we hear (or read) “once for information and again, for transformation.”

I believe that anything is possible for you, for your child — for any of us. Transformation is possible. Good will come if you look for it and ask the kind of questions that will open doors instead of shut them. You can help your child cope with cancer. I believe in you!

Here are the four tools for coping I’ll be writing about:

  1. Hope
  2. Re-Minding Yourself
  3. Questions
  4. Tears

Coping Tool #1: Hope…

When crisis comes it blows your life up. Routine, expectations, the day-to-day dissatisfactions, whatever you’ve been preoccupied with: they go “boom!” And you are in a whole new reality. So, the little things that seemed so important, suddenly mean nothing. When you worried about your child’s grades, now you worry about saving their life. When you argued with your teenager over curfew or a messy room, now your energy is devoted to his or her survival. How do you stay present to your child to give them what they need? Where does YOUR strength come from?

Let me start with a meditation. A chance to get anchored (or centered) again. Taking pauses like this one throughout your day will help you cope with cancer and the stresses that come with it; boost your patience, energy, and ability to invite hope into the stressful, scary situations you are facing.

A Meditation to Help You Hope and Cope  

Take a breath now and put your feet flat on the floor.

Feel the entire weight of your body sink into your feet, grounding you.

Close your eyes.

What do you hope for?  Look at your eyelids as little canvases.

Paint a perfect scene: every single thing you hope for…

Take as long as you like.

See your hopes fulfilled, achieved. All finished. In bright color, shining, full of joy.

Step into the canvas. What does it feel like to have all this? 

And now, you’ve imagined a canvas and you’ve allowed hope to paint a beautiful picture.

Let the hope to fill you up.  

With each breath, it comes in more and more – the scene is brighter and lighter – all of you fills up with the picture.  

You are in it and it is in you: your heart, your throat, head and mind. Your all. 

When you feel complete, open your eyes and take a few breaths before you get up and going again. Repeat this imagery whenever you can. If nothing else, taking a break to breathe and be alone for a few minutes will give you much more patience, perspective and allow room for hope to take root.


 Having Hope When Your Child is Sick

 Hope isn’t forced or made or manufactured. It is allowed.  It is invited. You can’t “have” it or “find” it, you just make room for it. You let it come and don’t stop it with “rational” thinking. You invite it, welcome it. Let hope come in and  give you a bit of relief. Let it feel like filling your lungs with air after you’ve been holding your breath for too long. Even a little air (or hope) will feel amazing.

Am I telling you to “fake it till you make it?” To pretend to feel hopeful when you really don’t? Am I telling you that you have to force yourself into positive thinking?

If you’ve ever tried to “think positive” by denying your pain and experience, you know how ineffective it is. Hope isn’t forced like that. You do have to allow it though. Let hope be a possibility.

In my experience people sometimes have a hopeful thought and right away they squash it with what they call “being realistic.” For example, maybe they’ve looked on the internet and seen the statistics about their child’s condition and then they have those numbers stuck in their head. (I wish hope could get stuck in our heads as easily as negative things do.)

Maybe something the doctor says makes them feel optimistic, and instead of focusing there and letting hope build, their brain grabs back onto those frightening statistics. Hope doesn’t stand a chance!

To me it seems negative thoughts stick and the positive ones tend to be a little bit more slippery.

Does Hope Help with Healing?

Deepak Chopra writes, “I am not making recommendations about how to approach cancer, only observing that the disease often seems to reflect the beliefs brought to it by the patient.”

Allow your belief to be inspired by hope and you will be open to possibility – for all the things you want for your child: to be free of pain, to be healed, to be out of the hospital and feeling better. Through that lens, how much clearer can you see? Notice that Chopra talks about the patient’s beliefs. As I found out myself, children are more intuitive than we realize. If you try to make your child feel hopeful when you don’t, it doesn’t work. They see the fear in your eyes, and hear it in your voice. Practice hope so your little patient can bring that into his or her heart.

Please don’t misread me, I am not asking you to blindly focus on the positive or to be in denial. No. But please try to feel what you are feeling without shutting out the things that are hopeful, funny or positive.

In his book The Book of Secrets, Chopra also writes about sharing feelings, both good and bad. He says people who discuss their feelings have higher survival rates. In research involving women with breast cancer he says, “In essence, the women who confronted their emotions were able to shift the reflection in the mirror.”

Talk to your child about whatever he or she is feeling, even if it makes you uncomfortable. You will be helping them express their fear and if Chopra is right, they will see themselves and their condition differently. It will make room for hope and possibility.

Hope in Small Things

“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the song without the words and never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson

On those day when you find yourself searching and scrambling, looking for something to cling onto, stop and remember this: hope isn’t found, it’s invited onto the tiny, clean canvas of your eyelids, where the dust and cobwebs of doubt and fear have been brushed away.

Yousef painting

A small, clean canvas is all it needs.Let it come and draw you a gorgeous picture. Even just for a minute brush your worry out and invite hope to paint the future.

The Finished Painting 

I’m sending you hope,





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