Childhood Cancer

Your Child in the Hospital

Chapter 19: Looking Back

“Time cools, time clarifies.”

— Thomas Mann

HOSPITAL STAYS CAN BE physically and emotionally challenging for children, siblings, parents, family, and friends. However, facing and dealing with adversity causes change and, often, growth. The dozens of parents who shared their stories in this book described many benefits and positive aftereffects for all members of the family

Children who have short stays or outpatient procedures, reported learning about:

  • How their body works
  • The type of work that doctors and nurses do
  • The types of medical problems that other children face
  • How to manage a difficult or painful experience

The lives of families of children who endure long or frequent hospitalizations are often changed forever. Although acknowledging the challenges, parents, children, and siblings also described many long-lasting benefits from their experiences.

  • Appreciation. Looking back, many parents reflected on the people they met. They describe kids with incredible courage, parents they will never forget, and caregivers who just never stopped giving. The people they met in hospitals whose situations were very grave bestowed a renewed appreciation for life. Many parents said they now cherish the little things: their child’s smile, the first hug of the day, the morning sun. Life slows down, and is savored.
  • Awareness. Parents described the incredible intensity of their child’s hospital experience. One mother said, “So much happened so quickly, and was so emotionally powerful, that we felt like we were in a true life drama unfolding in the hospital room.” The emotions experienced by children and parents alike changed their awareness of normal. Life seemed fuller and richer than in the past.
  • Bonding. Sharing a hospital experience, day and night, with your child can forge close bonds. It gives parents and child time together, to talk, to play, to cry, and sometimes to laugh. Children realize the enormity of their parent’s love, and parents often become closer to their child simply by sharing these experiences.
  • Emotions. Parents shared that the experience of living through a serious illness and hospitalization brought their emotions closer to the surface. They cry more and they laugh louder. They learned to make every day count and to weave wonderful memories out of little things the family shared. Hugs became valuable, and, many years later, they still hug each other more. They learned to reach out and show people how much they care.
  • Knowledge of the medical system. Any involvement with the medical system increases parents’ and children’s knowledge. Parents who are involved over long periods of time become masters at working the system effectively. Often, they become advocates for friends or relatives who call for advice or support. They are no longer intimidated by the hospital, they understand why and how things work, and they often use this knowledge to help others.
  • Knowledge about illness and injuries. Both children and parents learn a great deal about illness, kindness, and ways to help people who are hurting. They develop true compassion from their experiences in the hospital and the friends they made there. Many children who have endured long hospitalizations, as well as their siblings, plan careers in the helping professions. It can transform their lives.
  • Confidence. The confidence of “having been there, done that” hones children’s and parents’ abilities to help others in crisis. They know just the right things to say and do when a friend is in the hospital. They are comfortable visiting the hospital, talking to doctors, offering help, and exploring treatment options. Their medical competence is high.


The parents who contributed to this book hope that your child’s hospitalization enriched all of your lives in unexpected ways, and that your future is full of good health and happiness.