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This article from our founders Taraneh Arhamsadr and Rita Ho-Bezzola highlights the pressing need for accessible supportive care for children, especially those navigating a parent’s illness. Informed by Kate Middleton’s recent cancer diagnosis, it stresses the importance of providing children with the resources they need to cope. From therapy to child life programs, it urges readers to advocate for comprehensive care systems, ensuring no child faces such challenges alone.

The recent news about Kate Middleton’s cancer diagnosis has rocked the world—and also sparked important dialogue about the challenges families face when a parent falls ill. 

As we process the news of the Princess of Wales’ diagnosis, our hearts go out to her three kids. Watching Kate and William’s dedication to helping their children comprehend and cope with the journey ahead underscores the importance of honest conversations and comfort in times of turmoil—a support every child in similar circumstances deserves. It also shines a glaring light on the urgent need for accessible supportive care, ensuring that no child navigates challenges like this one without a sturdy lifeline.

But the harsh reality is that supportive care for children, including therapy and child life programs, is lacking here in the U.S. and in many parts of the world. Child life departments in the U.S., for instance, often rely on external funding sources, making them unsustainable in many healthcare settings. Compounding the issue further is the severe shortage of child psychologists and child life specialists. These professionals, when available, are often burdened with heavy workloads and insufficient compensation.

When it comes to kids with parents battling cancer, the resources are even scarcer. While organizations like Camp Kesem and institutions like UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center offer invaluable support, these services are few and far between and thus not accessible to most families.

The impact of a parent’s illness

According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology in October 2022, the emotional toll of witnessing their parent’s cancer journey can lead to significant psychological distress in kids, triggering symptoms akin to posttraumatic stress disorder. 

The threat to a parent’s life, the harsh impacts of intensive treatment, the uncertainty about what lies ahead, and the shifting family dynamics—all of these factors pile up and weigh heavily on children. Picture a kid witnessing their parent’s hair falling out because of chemotherapy, seeing them battle sickness after treatment, and feeling the overwhelming anxiety of visiting them in the hospital. It’s a whirlwind of emotions that can leave a child feeling utterly scared and confused. 

And when they don’t fully grasp what’s happening or why their mom or dad looks and acts so differently, it’s like wandering through a maze without a map. This confusion, especially for younger children who are still piecing together the world, can lead their imaginations down dark paths, conjuring up scary scenarios that have no basis in reality.

That’s exactly why we must advocate for and invest in greater investment in supportive care for children, including those grappling with the challenges of a parent’s illness. Every child should have access to resources that help them get through challenging times and reduce the negative psychological impacts that so often come along with them.

The case for supportive care

Supportive care, including therapy and child life programs, plays a critical role in addressing the emotional and developmental needs of children facing adversity. These often overlooked interventions provide a safe space for children to express their feelings, learn coping strategies, and maintain a sense of normalcy. Child life specialists are also adept at explaining medical procedures in age-appropriate ways, alleviating anxiety and fostering resilience in young patients.

Amidst the public spotlight and royal duties, it’s crucial to remember that Kate Middleton is, before all, a mom. A mom navigating the challenges and joys of raising a family while embarking on a cancer journey—a scenario faced by so many parents across the world who likely don’t have the resources available to Kate, William, and their kids.

We need to step up. We need to demand better support systems for these kids. Because every child deserves a chance to feel safe and understood, especially when their world feels like it’s crumbling.

So, let’s rally together. Let’s fight for comprehensive supportive care programs, not just in healthcare settings, but in every community. Because no child should ever have to face the storm alone.

Rita Ho-Bezzola and Taraneh Arhamsadr are the founders of Piper + Enza.