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Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant Frequently Asked Questions
12. How do I tell my child about his/her transplant?
Children often do better when they have appropriate expectations. Describing some of the daily routines and some of the procedures in advance can be helpful. For example, saying "We will have a special way to brush your teeth" or "We will all have to wash our hands very often to keep you safe from bacteria" is useful. Letting them know that they will be admitted to the hospital for a month or longer is important. Explaining that they will receive medicines that may not be pleasant but that will make them better is often useful. When preparing your child for certain procedures, it is important to be as truthful as possible (so that they feel that they can trust what you say) while at the same time being positive and protecting them. For example, a parent might say, "The chemotherapy medicine is a very powerful medicine that will destroy the sick cells in your body so that you can get better and go back to school and play with your friends. But, chemotherapy can also make you feel sick and throw up. I want you to know that I will always be here with you and that if you feel sick, I will hold you and hug you. We will do this together, even though sometimes it will be hard. And when you are done with the chemotherapy, we will have a little celebration and some treats."
It is sometimes helpful to describe the transplant as a second birthday, and many children enjoy looking forward to the 'party' after the chemotherapy and/or radiation. Many pediatric centers have creative ways to encourage children during this process. Help your child to understand that the transplant is a way to get better and get back to playing with friends and being at school.
Developing a plan to have a caregiver with the child throughout the transplant is important. Most of the time, family members and/or friends will need to take shifts, as this may be too tiring for one individual. Helping the child to know that there will be someone there with them and that they are not alone provides comfort. For older children, finding ways to communicate with friends through the Internet or phone may be useful. Finally, many children will mirror the feelings that they perceive from those closest to them. As scary as it is to think of your child undergoing a transplant, it is important to convey to them that you will be supporting them throughout the process and that this is something that you all have the strength to manage. Try to be hopeful, yet open to all feelings that your child may have and may want to discuss. This may mean dealing compassionately and with understanding to anger, sadness, frustration, and questions about life and death. These are all normal responses to the life-changing experience of undergoing a transplant.
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