Dealing With Childhood Illness: 7 Ways to Invite Hope into a Seemingly Hopeless Situation Every year, thousands of children are diagnosed with catastrophic illnesses-illnesses that affect not only them, but the entire family. I would know: When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was, and still is, a very rare disease for someone that age. I spent most of the next several years in the hospital, and endured six major surgeries and several minor ones-even decades after the cancer was in remission. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from my experience is that childhood illness takes the path your family was on and redirects it, molding you into a completely different family: The sick child becomes the ultimate focus, and between the time and expense of medical treatments, regular indulgences become things of the past. It's very easy for childhood illness to enslave an entire family. But there are also many ways to invite hope into your life during this time . . . and keep it there. 1. Only work with doctors you trust, and go out of your way to find the best. This time is stressful enough without having to worry about your child's doctors. Always get second opinions, and don't be afraid to seek out new medical teams if the one you're working with leaves room for doubt. Your doctors are there to inform and support and care for your child, but no one will be a better advocate for your child's recovery than you, so trust your instincts. 2. Keep healthy food in the house, and strive to have family dinners as often as possible. It's easy to sit down with a bag of potato chips and a gallon of ice cream-or to buy your kids a Happy Meal-when your life is this chaotic, but eating dinner together will help boost morale and strengthen your family unit. Meals don't have to be fancy, but if they are on the healthier side, you'll find that everyone will be in better moods and that small difference can have a huge impact when you're already under duress. 3. Make time for your other children. Your healthy kids will always say, "We understand. It's okay," when you tell them you can't be at their soccer game because you're needed at the hospital, but they still feel your absence. Even if it's something small, like helping them with their homework or going on a quick bike ride, make time just for them. My parents were constantly with me at the hospital, but the truth is that I was fine. I could easily have been left alone for an hour or two, and it would have meant the world to my brother and sister. 4. Make time for yourself. You will be more helpful to your family if you don't constantly feel on the verge of a breakdown. Snatch a half hour and get a manicure, or take an hour when everyone's in bed and watch a TV show or read a book. Keep it simple and don't feel guilty for caring for you. Caring for yourself is actually one of the greatest gifts you can give your entire family, including your loved one who is ill. 5. Keep informed, but don't self-diagnose. The Internet is an amazing tool, but spending hours researching your child's illness can drive both you and your doctor crazy. Keep a balance, and ask questions rather than talking at your doctor. 6. Be ready for the rollercoaster. There are going to be many highs and lows on this journey. Try to be flexible. If you're too rigid, even the smallest hiccups can become major roadblocks to your child's recovery. Take it one day at a time and focus on loving. 7. Create a support network. No one really understands what you're going through unless they're going through it, too; find a support group for parents of children with similar ailments. You can probably learn more by swapping stories with another parent than by researching online. But you need your family and friends, too, so don't push them away. When they say, "If there's anything I can do…" find something they can do! We tend to not ask for help, but we should. Serious illness causes us to question ourselves, our faith, and our relationships with those we love. We have to be very intentional about caring for ourselves and others as we are taken on this ride. Focus on the lessons and the love you have for not just the individual suffering, but for yourself and the entire family unit who is all trying to cope with the difficulties you're facing. Life is a treasure. Don't get lost in the pain.