Childhood Cancer

Childhood Cancer 14-02-2022

By: Fátima mejía

Childhood cancer encompasses numerous tumors or diseases that are characterized by the development of abnormal cells that divide, grow, and spread uncontrollably anywhere in the body and can appear at any time during childhood and adolescence.

Patients and families face many challenges during the childhood cancer experience. Most children with cancer adapt well to diagnosis and treatment. However, patients and families have a variety of emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral, and physical health needs to consider. Psychologists can help cope with problems, better manage stress, and cope with adjustment periods.

Psychology resources can help:

  • Dealing with emotions and adapting to illness and life changes
  • Coping with treatments and side effects
  • Reduce distress during medical procedures
  • Dealing with Sleep Problems
  • Identify and treat depression and anxiety
  • Addressing Developmental Delays and Cognitive Function
  • Provide evidence and academic support
  • Assist with end-of-treatment transitions
  • Supporting families and their relationships
  • Helping families cope with grief and loss
  • Supporting survivors

Good mental health and supportive relationships are an important part of the cancer journey. Having good mental health can improve medical outcomes and the quality of life of both the patient and the family.

The ups and downs in mental health during cancer are expected, there will be negative emotions and thoughts, stress, worry and sadness are normal responses to a very abnormal situation.

Healthy adaptation is a process, coping with the situation implies striving and finding ways to regroup and move forward. It can be easy to forget about mental health when the focus is on immediate medical needs, however, even patients and families who are coping well can benefit from resources to support mental health when facing cancer challenges.

Childhood cancer, anxiety and depression

Anxiety is a state in which you experience fear, distress, or worry, and it often presents itself as a response to a stressful situation. Thoughts and feelings of stress and worry are common for anyone who is facing the challenges of a serious illness, such as pediatric cancer. In most cases, children and adolescents are resilient and cope well with these emotions during and after cancer, however, psychological support is sometimes needed for both the child and his or her family members.

Pediatric cancer patients may benefit from strategies to help manage anxiety. A variety of resources and services are available to manage symptoms, improve mental health, and promote quality of life during and after cancer.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety in children and adolescents

Young children may have trouble identifying feelings of anxiety. Older children and teens may wish not to talk about their concerns because they don't want to bother their parents or make it all more stressful.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety may include the following:

  • Feelings of stress, worry, or fear
  • Get easily irritated or upset
  • Problems thinking or concentrating
  • Restlessness, inability to calm down
  • Crying more than usual
  • Not wanting to be alone, a lot of attachment to loved ones
  • Increased need for reaffirmation
  • Signs of self-inflicted damage
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased heart rate or fast breathing
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite or change in eating habits
  • Stomach discomfort, stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhea

Many of these symptoms may occur as a physical consequence of the disease or as a side effect of cancer treatment.

Coping with Anxiety: Tips for Parents and Caregivers

  • Speak openly. It may be difficult for parents and caregivers to talk to children about fears and concerns. Look for opportunities to speak naturally about thoughts and feelings on a regular basis.
  • Approach your friends and family. Social support is important for patients and families facing childhood cancer.
  • Be aware of support groups. Patients and families often find it easier to share their cancer experiences with someone who has gone through the same thing.
  • Use varied resources to help manage anxiety. There may be times when the usual coping strategy cannot be used or is not helping.
  • Control your own anxiety and stress. Stay calm when your child is anxious. Children perceive the moods of the people around them.
  • Provide safety without being over-shielded. During cancer, parents need to pay more attention to giving their children the opportunities to be independent in ways that are age-appropriate. This helps children develop confidence in their own abilities to adapt and solve problems.
  • Seek help for your child (or yourself) if anxiety symptoms get worse.

Depression, Cancer is a risk factor for depression. This means that patients with pediatric cancer are at a higher risk of depression compared to their healthy peers. Facing one or more risk factors does not mean that the person will suffer from depression. However, recognizing risk factors can help families be more attentive and take action to support mental health.

Risk factors that may contribute to depression in children and adolescents include the following:

  • Chronic Disease (Childhood Cancer)
  • Previous depressive episode.
  • Family history of depression.
  • Stress or family conflicts
  • Trauma or stress during early childhood due to abuse, neglect, or significant loss.
  • Problems with school or peers.
  • Poor coping strategies or lack of support resources.

During the course of cancer, different factors can affect mental health.

Treatments and procedures, pain, side effects, medications, hormonal changes, poor nutrition, sleep problems, and life interruptions can make it difficult to cope with emotions. Patients may also have difficulty accepting the “new normal” when dealing with long-term issues such as physical limitations, body image, identity, ability to function at school or work, fertility, relationships, independence, and survival.

Coping with Depression Symptoms: Tips for Parents and Caregivers

  • Help children and teens talk about their thoughts and emotions.Support them and listen to them. Children and teens who have depression can internalize their feelings or avoid these discussions.
  • Encourage social support.Having strong social support can help protect a person from depression. Help kids and teens stay connected with their friends and family, and find ways to foster meaningful relationships.

Support groups can provide an opportunity to build new relationships with people who understand what it's like to go through cancer.

  • Encourage participation in activities and interests.Encourage your child to engage in hobbies, extracurricular activities, sports, or other activities that interest him or her and that he or she can practice. Participating in different activities can help improve mood, decrease social isolation, improve self-esteem, and provide more opportunities for social support.
  • Identify the triggers.The challenges along the cancer journey can be daunting. Every challenge or obstacle, no matter how big or small, can be another blow to mental health. Help your child identify triggers that cause negative emotions or thoughts.
  • Use different resources and strategies to help manage symptoms of depression.Developing coping strategies, skills, and resources can protect mental health and promote well-being.
  • Encourage healthy behaviors, including exercise, healthy eating, and good sleep habits.
  • Seek help for your child (or yourself) if anxiety symptoms get worse.Depression can have a negative impact on health and medical outcomes.

Depression in Childhood Cancer Survivors

The rate of depression in childhood cancer survivors is about twice the rate of the general population. It is important to have a comprehensive survivor care plan that includes mental health support and monitoring to achieve long-term well-being and quality of life after cancer.

Fátima Mejía