Unique Struggles for Moms Helping Kids Fight Cancer

When a child is stricken with cancer, fighting the disease very quickly changes life for the whole family. On top of the often-prolonged medical journey, there are numerous emotional and practical struggles as well. Emotionally, both the child and their family experience everything from fear and worry to bravery and support, and the practical struggles include everything from finances and scheduling to temporary relocation. While the whole family is impacted, mothers often shoulder a large amount of the responsibility. Often perceived as “chief nurturer” as well as coordinator of household schedules and day-to-day tasks, mothers can become physically, emotionally, and psychologically drained when coping with their child’s cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Recognizing that fact, many pediatric oncology departments include individual counseling for parents as part of their overall treatment process. Traditionally, a “reflective listening” approach is used, which does help women achieve lower stress levels while they are in counseling. But after counseling, that stress tends to rebound. Working with children’s cancer hospitals in both Houston and Florida, specialists have developed a new stress coping program called Problem-Solving Skills Training (or PSST). So far, PSST has been twice as effective as reflective listening counseling, and has maintained those improvements over a longer period of time.

The idea behind PSST is simple: when clients are highly stressed, why not switch from helping them deal with that stress to helping them reduce its causes? Counselors in the PSST program help these mothers trouble-shoot the situations that are compounding an already weighty situation. This is an excellent example of how versatile the support of a therapist or counselor can be. The cliché of a goateed, bespectacled therapist nodding sympathetically and relating every problem back to the client’s parents is a tired one. In practice, counselors play a range of roles: from helping people identify the roots of their darkest emotions to helping them change behavioral patterns, from working with stressed patients on their stress responses to helping them devise practical solutions to every-day difficulties. This latest evidence-based study is just one in dozens that illustrates the value of counseling, therapy, and psychotherapy for a wide range of real life difficulties.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • McKay

    McKay

    October 28th, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    When a child just falls ill the mother frets over it,is stressed and prays for her child’s recovery. So when the problem is actually something as big as cancer it must be crazy to actually see a mother at work because she is doing everything possible to make things as easy as possible for her child and to have everything at an atm’s length of the child.

  • eliza

    eliza

    October 28th, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    wonderful idea! and this is something they can use throughout life.

  • JUDE

    JUDE

    October 28th, 2010 at 7:21 PM

    That God made mothers because he couldn’t be everywhere at once is so true…Mothers are a real gift to every person and it is because she just does everything so perfectly to make things easier for her child…

    On topic-this is a great news for all those families grappling with a child with cancer…I hope and pray that they find relief and peace.

  • Deborah

    Deborah

    October 28th, 2010 at 7:28 PM

    PSST is a stroke of genius and yet so simple! Reflective therapy sounds like a bandaid compared to that approach. I would rather have a practical solution to getting rid of stress inducers any day.

  • Sharon

    Sharon

    October 28th, 2010 at 7:48 PM

    Where moms of kids with cancer find their strength I have no idea. It’s nothing short of admirable. Bless them and their
    families. And a big pat on the back too to these versatile counselors that can wear many hats.

  • steve h

    steve h

    October 29th, 2010 at 4:51 AM

    I think that for a lot of women especially they allow the taking care of someone else aspect to overtake their lives and they forget to continue to take care of themselves. I see this in my mom and my sister but I don’t think that as a man I am hard wired that way. Yes I would take care of a family member but I am not sure that it would be to the extreme in the way that I see many females going baout it. I just think that this is a great way to not only give them the coping mechanisms that they need to get through this situation but to also get them through the rough times that to come up for any of us in the future as well. I think that any time you give someone the skills that they need to cope and survive then that is something that is going to benefit them years down the road too.

  • A Son

    A Son

    October 29th, 2010 at 7:12 AM

    Mothers have this uniques ability of making their kids feel great even in the most adverse conditions and shield them from any danger.they just cannot be compared o anything because nothing as great exists!

  • musicman

    musicman

    October 31st, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    It’s wonderful that the parent’s needs as well as those of the child are being addressed by pediatric oncology departments around the country. Parents need to feel they aren’t treading this path alone. That would be a great comfort.

  • Owen

    Owen

    November 1st, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    I hope other children’s cancer hospitals take heed of what’s going on in Houston and Florida and follow suit! Surely seeing that PSST is doubly effective should be enough to encourage its adoption.

  • Stacey

    Stacey

    January 20th, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Hi Moms. Firstly, I want to tell you how much I admire your strength. I have lost so many loved ones to this horrific disease. I have made it my mission to find a cure. I came across this interactive toy that brings laughter to kids who are suffering. $3.00 of every one sold goes to the National Cancer Society. The fireman/paramedic who developed it had his firehouse buy 300 of them and donated them to Children’s Hospital of Orange County. It was in the local paper and the pictures were so heartwarming. The toy is called Laffy Laffalot. I saw it in Woman’s Day, as well.

  • Hoping@HelpMom

    Hoping@HelpMom

    January 20th, 2011 at 11:01 AM

    Hi Moms. Firstly, I want to tell you how much I admire your strength. I have lost so many loved ones to this horrific disease. I have made it my mission to find a cure. I came across this interactive toy that brings laughter to kids who are suffering. $3.00 of every one sold goes to the National Cancer Society. The fireman/paramedic who developed it had his firehouse buy 300 of them and donated them to Children’s Hospital of Orange County. It was in the local paper and the pictures were so heartwarming. The toy is called Laffy Laffalot. I saw it in Woman’s Day, as well.

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