Being a Parent to a Child with Cancer
- Illusionist Criss Angel recently celebrated his 54th birthday. But instead of focusing on partying or buying something crazy like he used to, Angel shared that his birthday marked a time to reflect on what brings him the most happiness – his children and loved ones.
- Angel and his wife, Shaunyl Benson, have been supporting their son, Johnny, during his acute lymphoblastic leukemia journey for most of the 7-year-old’s life. Thankfully, he’s almost done with his cancer treatments.
- Being a parent and a cancer caregiver at the same time is a huge responsibility. It’s important to take care of yourself and find the time to celebrate life’s happy moments along the way.
Angel and his wife, Shaunyl Benson, have been supporting their son, Johnny, during his cancer journey for most of the 7-year-old’s life. He was just 20 months old when he was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, in October 2015. After three years of treatment, his cancer went into remission.Read More
Then, in December 2019, Angel announced that his then 5-year-old son had relapsed and would begin chemotherapy treatments again. But despite all the ups and downs, Angel and his family seemingly do a wonderful job supporting Johnny while taking the time to celebrate family milestones.
In a recent Instagram post, Angel shared that he was celebrating his 54th birthday. But instead of relishing in a time that could be all about gifts or extravagant experiences, Angel is focused on something much more important to him now.
View this post on Instagram
“Back in the day to celebrate my birthday I would have bought a car, motorcycle and partied at the clubs,” he wrote in his Instagram caption. “Now happiness is simple my kids & loved ones – priceless! I’m so thankful for each year and for all of your kind thoughts and birthday wishes. Have a beautiful day. See you on stage tonight!”
No matter how you swing it, being a father to a child fighting cancer is a sobering experience that likely changes a person’s perspective on life. Thankfully, Johnny’s cancer treatments should be over soon as he’s currently finishing up treatment for his relapse. And it’s quite incredible that through it all, Johnny has always managed to keep a smile on his face and maintain his happy go lucky personality.
In a recent post, Benson shared that her “super star angel” only had one month left of treatment before he could finally ring the bell signifying the end of his treatments “once and for all.”
View this post on Instagram
“He goes into hospital for his last immune therapy hookup next week, just in time for Christmas,” she wrote in her caption. “God continues to give our family strength daily and I know this incredible boy will change the world, just with his story alone.”
To honor Johnny and raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer, Angel and Benson started The Johnny Crisstopher Children’s Charitable Foundation which funds “research and treatment for children fighting the big fight.”
Understanding Childhood Cancer
Treatment advances in recent decades have lead to 84 percent of children with cancer now surviving five years or more, according to the American Cancer Society. This is up from 58 percent from the mid-1970s.
But according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, more than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors have significant health-related issues because of the current treatment options, and only 4 percent of the billions of dollars spent each year on cancer research and treatments are directed toward treating childhood cancer in the United States. Since 1980, fewer than 10 drugs have been developed for use in children with cancer while hundreds of drugs have been created exclusively for adults.
Dr. Elizabeth Raetz, director of pediatric hematology and oncology at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, reminded us in a previous interview that there is still reason for hope.
“There are also targeted treatments and different immunotherapies that have been studied in adults and have now moved into clinical trials for children and there has been a great deal of excitement in the community about that,” Dr. Elizabeth Raetz told SurvivorNet.
Caring for a Child with Cancer
Still, navigating a child’s cancer diagnosis can be tricky, and Angel and Benson have a lot on their plates right now. Especially given the fact that the family recently welcomed a third baby into the world on November 5, 2021, and they are still supporting Johnny through the last of his cancer treatments.
Similar to Angel and Benson, Jayne Wexler knows all about filling the simultaneous roles of parent and cancer caregiver. Her son, Justice, was also diagnosed with ALL, but he has since recovered. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Wexler explained how she managed to be a mother and a caregiver all at once.
“Being a caregiver is a huge job,” Wexler said. “Fortunately, my husband and family were very supportive … it’s really hard to see your child go through this. If it could be me, I would take it in a second. You just go on auto-pilot and you just do what you have to do.”
But that doesn’t mean it was always easy. Wexler admitted that as a parent caring for a child with the disease, you don’t have a lot of time to sit down and deal with your own emotions.
“You don’t have that much time for yourself,” Wexler said. “I try to stay strong, but then sometimes you just want to go and cry, and you need to cry… it’s good to cry.”
The survival rate for children with cancer has improved over the past few decades, but pediatric cancer is still an incredibly hard thing for a family to go through. In her own caregiving experience, Wexler found therapy to be a great way to process everything happening to her family. Regardless of whether it’s therapy or participating in your favorite activities or something entirely different, it’s important to find ways to also take care of yourself as you’re taking care of your child.