Emotional Wellness Month: How to Cope with Pediatric Cancer

Emotional Wellness Month 2023

The Power of Connection: Fighting Loneliness When Your Child Is in Treatment

Heal in a community

Emotional Wellness Month is an annual observance held in October to raise awareness about the importance of emotional health and well-being. Emotional wellness is the ability to manage our emotions in a healthy way, cope with stress, and build strong relationships.

In a previous blog post, we explored the secrets to longevity and wellness in the Blue Zones, which are geographical regions where people live longer than average. One key factor emphasized in Dan Buettner‘s research on blue zones is the importance of social ties. As any expert or researcher will tell you, having a daily purpose and community of people around you who understand what you’re going through and can provide companionship and support is essential for getting through difficult times, such as a cancer diagnosis. Has your family’s cancer diagnosis left you feeling adrift and alone? Maybe you’ve withdrawn from your loved ones, or you’re struggling to find the energy to reach out to your community. If so, please know that you’re not alone. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it can be an incredibly isolating experience for the whole family. The focus is often on the child’s treatment, and parents may feel they don’t have time or energy for anything else. This isolation can affect your and your child’s mental and emotional health. Families must stay in contact with their social community, even when it feels like all you can handle is isolating yourself.

Loneliness and isolation have become a pervasive societal epidemic, prompting leading global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), to dedicate significant resources to studying this critical public health issue. A family with a cancer diagnosis is understandably more vulnerable to isolation and unforeseen breaks from social ties. According to a 2023 advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General, loneliness can significantly impact both physical and mental health, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and depression. Recent studies within the last five years reveal alarming statistics about its prevalence and impact.

People behind plastic

Photo by cottonbro studio

  • Loneliness is an epidemic in the US, with over 60% of adults feeling lonely.
  • Young adults between 18 and 22 are the loneliest age group, with studies showing that they are more likely to report feeling lonely than any other age group.
  • The number of people living alone has increased by over 30% in the last few decades, suggesting that more and more people are feeling isolated.
  • Social isolation is as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, highlighting the severe impact of loneliness on both physical and mental health.
  • Loneliness can increase the risk of premature death by up to 50%, making it a major public health concern.
  • One in five Americans say they have nobody to talk to about important matters, underscoring the need for more decisive social connections.
  • Social media use has been linked to increased feelings of loneliness and depression, suggesting that it is important to be mindful of how much time we spend on social media.
  • Children who experience neglect or abuse may grow up feeling disconnected from others, setting them up for a lifetime struggle with loneliness.
Young boys fishing

Photo by Tuấn Kiệt Jr.

It’s easy to say, “Just go make friends” or “Take a break and do something fun,” but convincing someone to follow those instructions can be tricky. Especially when it comes to a sick child. However, research evaluating the correlation between socializing purposefully and breaking the cycle of loneliness has been correlated to a significant improvement in overall well-being. Evidence suggests that pediatric cancer patients and caregivers who socialize with their community, be it family, close friends, or even a caring medical team, have improved wellness. This is likely due to many factors, including:

  • Reduced stress: Socialization can help reduce stress, a significant risk factor for cancer recurrence and other adverse health outcomes.
  • Improved mood: Socialization can help improve mood, positively impacting overall health and well-being.
  • Increased sense of belonging: Feel a sense of belonging and connection, which can be especially important during cancer treatment.
  • Enhanced coping skills: Develop coping skills to help them manage cancer treatment and survivorship challenges.
  • Increased quality of life: Improve pediatric cancer patients’ overall quality of life.

Socializing is essential for the well-being of all children and adults, but it’s especially important for pediatric cancer families. So, let’s open ourselves up to finding a supportive community, whether big or small. Taking the first step can make a world of difference, and it could even extend your and your child’s wellness throughout your cancer journey.

Tips to Cure Loneliness

  • Take it slow– If you’ve been feeling lonely for a while, it’s understandable that opening up to people can feel daunting and overwhelming. Meeting new people can also be nerve-wracking. But take a deep breath and remember you don’t need to rush into anything. Try making small talk with people you see daily, like the cashier at your local grocery store or your neighbor across the street.
  • Make new connections- Join an online cancer support community like org or Momcology.org to listen and share with others with similar experiences. They’re available 24/7, free, and accessible from anywhere. Alternatively, look for non-cancer-related groups who share your interests through online and in-person events on Meetup or Facebook Groups. Start your own if you are still looking for interesting groups or activities!
  • Stop Comparing- Many families with cancer find social media a helpful way to connect with others going through similar experiences. But it’s important to remember that social media can also be a source of loneliness and comparison. When you’re feeling lonely, it’s easy to focus on the positive things other people share about their lives. But it’s important to remember that everyone struggles, even if they don’t show it on social media. If social media makes you feel lonely, try taking a break. Or, use it to connect with people who support you and make you feel good.
  • Take care of YOU (and your child)– Physical activity is a great way to improve your mental well-being and self-esteem. Join a local exercise or online class like INOVA that offers excellent options for cancer families to stay fit. Spending time in nature can also enhance your well-being and reduce feelings of loneliness. Plant some vegetables in your garden or on your windowsill. Choosing just one activity that allows you to learn something new, move your body a little, and require you to focus on actions rather than your sense of isolation will make a significant impact on your family’s daily life.

A Bonus HAPPY Story

Want to learn how finding the right community, purpose, and environment “accidentally” helped Stamatis Moraitis, an Ikarian who relocated to America in the 1950s, live to be over 90 after he was diagnosed with cancer at 60 and given 9 months to live? Check out his story here!

Need Cancer Care Support?

At Here to Serve, we understand how overwhelming it can be for families when a child is diagnosed with cancer. Please remember that we are here to support you! If you are a family who has a child with a new cancer diagnosis or if you know of a family in this challenging situation, please don’t hesitate to contact Here to Serve. You can click on the ‘Get Help‘ button on our homepage to get started.

By Sameera Rangwala, M.S., M.P.H

About the Author

Sameera Rangwala spent over 15 years in the biotechnology industry and is currently a life science educator for children in grades 5-8.  As a scientist and research professional, she uses her skills to blog and provide words of support to the cancer community.

All content in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.