Parenting Through Cancer: Ease the Guilt

Guilt. It plagues us all from time to time. Many of us impose guilt onto ourselves for the smallest to largest of infractions, everything from skipping an evening workout to missing a child’s band concert. If you’re guilty of this behavior (pun intended), it turns out, you’re not the only one. On average, Americans experience 5 hours a week of guilty feelings (Psychology Today)!

Now add cancer to the mix. More than likely, your level of weekly guilt will increase. You start to feel guilt that your family vacation funds are going towards medical bills instead of that promised trip to Disney World. You feel guilty that you’re too exhausted, too sick, too (insert your own adjective here), to spend quality time with the ones you love.  You feel guilty that your intense treatment is causing you to remove yourself physically from your family and friends.

Caring for children through a cancer diagnosis, treatment, and into survivorship can add additional stress, strain, and guilt. Luckily, local non-profit, Angel Foundation, is ready to help! Melissa Turgeon, a Board-Certified Art Therapist and Child Life Specialist, is the Director of Facing Cancer Together (FCT), one of two programs offered at Angel Foundation. This program offers a wide range of resources, curriculum and programming to meet the needs of adults with cancer and their children.

The AngelPack program is a great example of just one of the many FCT programs offered in the Twin Cities metro. AngelPacks are backpacks distributed to local clinics and hospitals and given to kids, pre-teens and teens at the time of a parental cancer diagnosis. The backpacks contain educational, therapeutic and comforting tools, including an age-appropriate guidebook. These guidebooks are written specifically for three different age levels—kids, pre-teens and teens – and explore cancer terminology and facts, encourage the sharing of feelings and emotions through activities and/or writing and drawing, and discuss self-care strategies and resources for the child.

Throughout the calendar year, Facing Cancer Together programs include monthly support group meetings for the whole family, special events and activities (such as retreats and art projects) and kids’ night out. Teens have the opportunity to meet monthly as part of the “Teen Outreach” program, engaging in social activities with peers who are dealing with cancer at home. Angel Foundation is proud to partner with other local organizations for some programming, such as Education and Support Series (offered this spring at Gilda’s Club) and Caregiver Support Group (offered in partnership with Jack’s Caregiver Coalition).

One of the most popular programs is Camp Angel, a 3-day summer camp experience for kids, pre-teens and teens who have, or have had, a parent with cancer. Attendance at Camp Angel increases every year: Angel Foundation now offers two sessions (June and August) to accommodate the number of campers wishing to attend.

Beyond scheduled programming, Melissa is available Monday through Friday for phone consultations to help parents learn how to Parent Through Cancer. Parents often call at the time of diagnosis, not knowing how (or what) to tell their kids about cancer. Melissa’s advice is simple and consistent:

 “It is OK to talk about cancer with your child—no child is too young to be part of the conversation. Children want to be treated with respect and honesty. Ultimately, children are resilient.”

She encourages keeping the cancer conversation going—even after treatment and into survivorship—as children go through the many stages of development and grow into young adults. Their questions, concerns and fears may change, as does their brain’s capacity for understanding what cancer is and its impact on them and the family.

While Melissa’s work is often difficult, her job is rewarding as well.

“I love seeing the families who push themselves to be a part the our program, who see the magic of peer-to-peer support, who see the power of a safe space for their kids to walk hand-in-hand with them through their journey of cancer.”

A special thank you to Melissa Turgeon of Angel Foundation for sharing her expertise and experience in parenting through cancer. For questions or to schedule an appointment with Melissa, call 612-627-9000 or go to: www.mnangel.org.

Written by Amy Tix, Firefly Staffer and breast cancer survivor.

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  1. Pingback: Parenting Through Cancer Blog Series - The Firefly Sisterhood

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