Coping with childhood cancer in Myanmar

Having spent several months volunteering in developing countries across Africa and Asia, Megan Cruise has been speaking about the importance of counselling for parents of children with cancer;

“The families I am working with are going through one of the most painful, heart breaking, challenging and potentially devasting experiences of their lives. When their child is diagnosed with cancer, their lives are turned upside down and everything changes. Having someone outside their circle of family and friends, a professional who they talk to about how they are feeling, to cry with, to release anger with, to just sit with, can lighten the load slightly and make life a little bit more manageable.

There are many things that make coping with childhood cancer especially difficult for families. Spending extended periods of time away from home, the side effects of treatment, possible disfigurement, changes in image, missing large chunks of school, huge financial impacts are all attributing factors. The emotional needs of these families are enormous so providing them with an outlet to express their emotions is essential.”

As well as supporting families, Megan has also been delivering workshops to nurses and medical professionals at hospital who may have never spoken about their emotions before;

“When delivering training to nurses and clinical staff it has been clear to me that working with children with cancer has a big emotional impact on the staff. In every country the staff are keen to talk about the emotional impact and they are grateful for the opportunity to talk about how they feel and receive some support.

I have always known how healing talking can be, but having had this experience of working in different counties where counselling is not so common, it has emphasised even more, to me how important talking is - giving families and staff the space and time to talk about how they are feeling and share their emotions is essential.

In some countries people are not aware that children can get cancer, and this can be very isolating for the families who do have a child with cancer. Having someone they can talk to about this can be provide a relief.”

Volunteering in different countries with varying cultures has not come without its challenges as Megan explains;

“I had not predicted that language would be such a challenge in Myanmar and this meant my work took a bit of time to get started. I now have an interpreter which is fantastic. I can now communicate fully with families and all the staff.

I have stared delivering my training to nurses and providing counselling to families.

Since I arrived in Myanmar, a few local people have expressed concerns about whether parents would open up to me because my type of work is very new here and that people can be quite reserved in sharing their feelings but this has not been the case. Many parents have shared their thoughts almost straight away – they are keen to speak to someone about their situation and how they are feeling.

In all the countries I have worked in religion has been incredibly important to the families I have worked with. In Myanmar, Buddhism is the most prominent religion and I do not know a great deal about it. Therefore, it has been important for me to learn what I can, and my interpreter has been giving me lessons! I attended a monk and nun initiation ceremony for 33 of the children at the hospital this week and it was a wonderful leaning experience. By becoming more accustomed to the way of life here I hope to build stronger relationships and ultimately help more families and healthcare workers in need of support.”

About the author

Megan Cruise

Counsellor and World Child Cancer Volunteer