When you become a father, nobody hands you a playbook with all the answers, least of which when your child is diagnosed with cancer. You can read all the parenting books in the world, and it will not truly prepare you for the role of fatherhood or a critically ill child. The first moment you see your child, it becomes a mixture of fear and excitement. You want the best for your child; you want to be the best dad for your child. There will be plenty of moments where you will get everything wrong, but each day most dads will try their best to do the right thing when being a parent. Celebrating dads with cancer kids on Father’s Day can be difficult.
On Sunday, June 20th, we celebrate Father’s Day in the United States. A day that was first recognized as a federal holiday by President Nixon in 1972. In these nearly 50 years, celebrating has come in the form of handmade gifts and store-bought neckties. Backyard BBQs with family, or an afternoon at a big-league baseball game, soaking in the warm weather. However you honor your father this year, please take a moment to give recognition to a special kind of father, those men who are cancer dads.
Men Stepping Up in a Time of Need
According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, each year in the United States, there are an estimated 15,780 children between the ages of birth and 19 years diagnosed with cancer. So each year, thousands of men, who are fathers or father figures to a young child, receive devasting news that is any parent’s worst fear; their child has cancer.
There is no doubt that a mother plays an important and critical role in raising and nurturing her child. When that child has cancer, a mother’s protective instincts will become even more evident. But a father’s care is just as essential, and cancer dads need to be honored for all they do.
Changes in a Father’s Role
As our society has evolved, the current role of the father has transformed. Fathers now have a more significant impact on their children’s development. Mothers and fathers are partners, each taking on different or shifting responsibilities. Fathers can be caring and loving, and when faced with helping their child through cancer treatment, these men are heroic.
In many cases of childhood cancer, some dads must assume the hidden responsibilities of the cancer fight, not always by choice but by necessity. Parents become caregivers after the diagnosis. Endless doctor visits and chemo treatments, prolonged hospital stays are often overseen by cancer moms. Over time a child’s medical costs will skyrocket. And if one parent must take an extended leave to be with their child, the other parent, generally the father, must take on the burden of working to help pay for these costs.
Whether a dad works in an office or drives a truck across the country, their child is heading into treatment, and they want desperately to be there physically, but it’s not always possible celebrating dads with cancer kids in person. It is frustrating to stand back and focus on work while their child undergoes the pain and suffering of treatment. And after a long day on the job, cancer dads come back to their child to offer the gift of love. That can come in the form of a hug, reading a story, administering medication, offering words of encouragement as their son or daughter suffer through chemo side effects. The horror of childhood cancer will bring out the best in a father who is doing everything he can to help his child.
Here to lessen a father’s load
Feelings of helplessness can sweep over a father in times of darkness. Yet, he is trying to be stoic and strong in moments of uncertainty. It is not easy for many men to ask for help. They want to be the provider, but they are only human, and just like the care team working around the clock to save the child, there are others in the community ready to serve. At Here to Serve, our team of family coordinators can help cancer dads lighten their workload at home, so they have additional time with their child. Helping to ease the burden of parents is the way we honor fathers every day of the year.
By Chris Smith