Posted: Dec 26, 2013 7:00 AM
When a child is diagnosed with cancer, families face enormous challenges. We talked to parents of kids with cancer to find out how you can best help in a time of need.

When friends and family face devastating news, the first instinct is to help out in any way possible. We talked to three moms to find out what types of support really help after a child has been diagnosed with cancer.

Meet three moms facing a childhood cancer diagnosis


When you have a million thoughts about how your child's future is changing before your eyes, everything else seems trivial.

Crystal's son Jack was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at age 5. "We caught it early, thankfully, and he was admitted to the hospital and started on chemotherapy immediately," says Crystal. Jack is now halfway through a three-and-a-half year treatment plan. In the immediate days following Jack's diagnosis, Crystal had a difficult time asking for help or knowing what to ask for. "When you have a million thoughts about how your child's future is changing before your eyes, everything else seems trivial," she says. Crystal shares additional tips for reaching out to friends or loved ones with cancer.

Abbi Perets is a mom of five children, including a son with special needs and a new leukemia diagnosis. Her 10-year-old son was diagnosed with T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia this fall. She's blogging her way through her experiences at Get What You Get.


We were trying to find out information as fast as our friends were trying to get answers from us.

Debra is a mom of six. Her daughter Isabel was diagnosed with Wilm's Tumor, a cancer of the kidneys, at age 5. "When we found out our child had cancer, it was like someone punched us in the stomach knocking the air out of us. We felt like we couldn't breathe," she says. "As our friends began to find out about Isabelle, all their questions felt like it was too much for us to deal with. We were trying to find out information as fast as our friends were trying to get answers from us."

Find out what you can do to help

  1. Offer specific types of support. "Be specific in what you are offering," says Abbi. "Do not say, let me know if you need anything. This diagnosis kicks the crap out of people, and we're barely functional. So say something like, can I bring you breakfast to the hospital tomorrow at 9?"

  2. Do your homework. "I had a friend who did some digging to find research on my son's diagnosis and she read through a lot of it so that she could paraphrase it for me — there was only so much information I could handle and I wanted to avoid some of the scarier topics at that point in time," says Crystal. "That was invaluable!"

  3. Help with household chores. "Another friend of ours went to our house and cleaned it from top to bottom so that we didn't have to worry about any potential dangers to our son's immune system that might be in the house," says Crystal. "These friends didn't ask before doing this, by the way — they just did it when stopping to pick up some laundry."

  4. Support siblings. "We have four other kids, and the greatest gift people can give me is to take one or more of them out," says Abbi. "It can be out for a walk, or over for ice cream, but knowing they are getting some attention from an adult is huge." Don't forget about pets. Families often need help with pet care during hospital stays, too.

  5. Offer meals. "I wish I'd asked for freezer meals or gift cards for meals that I could use later on," says Crystal, who suggests gift cards as a simple way to help families with basic household needs. "They can be for grocery stores, a place like Amazon or Target where most living supplies are available and entertainment-type things (iTunes, Netflix, e-books, etc.)."

  6. Respect boundaries. "The best thing I could say is friends should just offer to be there, but at the same time give the families space," says Debra. "They don't need to call every day, or constantly ask how everyone is doing. Friends may feel like they aren't important anymore and that is not the case."

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