International Childhood Cancer Day 2022: Ways to take care of a child’s mental health during treatment

Every year, on February 15, International Childhood Cancer Day is observed to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to express support for children and adolescents with cancer, the survivors and their families. While there’s growing awareness about cancer in children, its effect on their mental health is still a matter of acute concern.

According to Dr Gauri Kapoor, Medical Director Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre (RGCIRC), Nitibagh and Director, Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at RGCIRC Rohini, “Childhood cancer is curable. However, the treatment is quite intensive. For a few months, the child needs to come to the hospital frequently, and many times, they also require admission, chemotherapy treatments and injections. So, a child’s life is turned upside down during the treatment.”

“Also, he/she can’t understand what’s happening. It’s difficult to explain because many times, the children are so young that we can’t properly make them understand the scientific basis of what we are doing. Thus, it is a very stressful time,” Dr Kapoor said, highlighting the mental health impact of cancer on children.

She added: “At the same time, there’s a fear about cancer in the country, making their family and relatives very anxious. Their lives become difficult, too — emotionally, physically and socially. So, a child is not just experiencing physical problems but also seeing everyone around him/her stressed. Thus, it’s important to understand that a child will have emotional and psychological problems during the treatment.”

Ways to take care of children’s mental health

We try to anticipate and address this problem to minimise its impact on them, the pediatric oncologist highlighted.

*We try our best to have a rapport with the child. We try to explain in simple words what we are going to do and what it means.

*We try to make the treatment as less painful as possible for the child.

*We try to keep the environment and ambience child-friendly, like having games and activities.

*We have a pediatric counsellor to counsel the children and parents as the child has to be seen in his/her relation with the family.

What parents can do?

According to Dr Kapoor, parents need to remain calm and maintain a stress-free environment for their child. She suggested the following tips for parents.

*It is crucial to reduce stress and anxiety in parents. They need to accept that they also need psychological help.

*If parents are relaxed, the child will be relaxed too.

*Parents need to deal with the child in a normal way and not give them extra privileges and leeways.

*In consultation with their cancer specialist, they can continue some homebound education work.

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