Overcoming trauma of childhood cancer diagnosis

A Galway based senior clinical psychologist will speak next month at a west of Ireland workshop aimed at helping parents overcome the trauma of a childhood cancer diagnosis.

Dr Mairead Brennan, who developed a child and family service at the local Cancer Care West support centre, will address the event being organised by Childhood Cancer Ireland.

The workshop entitled “Putting the pieces back together: understanding the experience and taking steps forward,” and aimed at parents in the west, will take place at the Sligo Park Hotel on Saturday March 11. The objective of the event is to help parents begin to process the emotional rollercoaster they have been on since their child was first diagnosed with cancer.

Dr Brennan will be joined on the day by speakers from The Childhood Cancer Organisation as well as Debbie Cullinane, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, play therapist, and former primary school teacher from Mayo.

About 60 children, adolescents, and young adults (under 24 years ) are diagnosed with cancer every year in the west. Nationally, an average of 353 children, adolescents and young adults are diagnosed annually.

Laura Cullinan, the CEO of Childhood Cancer Ireland and a parent of a childhood cancer survivor, describes the experience of parents.

“To hear the words: ‘Your child has cancer’ is devastating and it has a huge impact on the entire family. Depending on the type of cancer a child has, families could be in treatment for up to 3.5 years, with further scans and check-ups after that which prolong the anxiety and fear. As a parent, it’s like you are holding your breath during this time. Your worst fears have been confirmed and you don’t know what’s coming next. Many of us only begin to breathe again after treatment has ended.”

In the earlier stages of childhood cancer, parents are often in “doing” mode, she says, managing medical appointments, being away from home for extended periods, arranging childcare for other children, and organising financial commitments and work. They are “running on empty”, and their minds are constantly alert and vigilant. They can get “stuck” in this position well after treatment ends.

“We listened to parents tell us they were struggling and we have put these workshops together to help figure out what has been happening since we heard those dreaded words, and to provide some strategies to help them both as an individual and as a parent,” says Ms Cullinan.

“As parents, we often put ourselves last but we have to prioritise our own wellbeing in order to help our children deal with what they have been through. In our case, we were travelling from Roscommon to Dublin with a sick child, leaving a six-year-old and a baby at home either with a relative, childminder, or family friend. As a parent, it is really difficult to feel so torn and parent-child bonds can be affected with the siblings who are left at home. It can take time to rebuild and to deal with the trauma that the whole family has been through.”

For further information on the workshop or to register for the event log on to https://childhoodcancer.ie/parent-workshops/

Childhood Cancer Ireland is a national parent and survivor-led charity representing the voice of children and young people with cancer, survivors, and their families. As a parent and survivor-led organisation, it understands the impact that a diagnosis of childhood cancer has on the entire family.

Childhood Cancer Ireland received funding from the AIB Community Fund and the Aviva Community Fund to develop and deliver this workshop series.


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