There isn’t an easy way to deal with cancer, whether it’s early-stage, curable cancer or terminal cancer. And cancer is difficult for everyone who loves someone with cancer.
I’ll write as if you’re the one with cancer, although the ideas will be much the same if you’re talking with your child about a close relative or someone else they love who has cancer.
Tips for Talking with Children about Cancer
Plan when to tell your children.
This is an extremely difficult and important conversation, so it’s important to decide when to talk with your children. You typically will want to wait a bit until you’ve had time to work through some of the emotional intensity you’re feeling.
It’s important to be honest, but this is a topic that can require careful planning to avoid upsetting your children during an important event or holiday if possible. Sometimes, you can’t avoid upsetting your children at an especially bad time for them, but it’s nice to plan it out if you do have the choice. Of course, your children will want to hear about your cancer from you before they hear about it from someone else.
Have someone there to help support you in your talk.
If you don’t have a spouse to help you, maybe you have a relative or friend who could be with you for this conversation. If you have adult children who need to be told over the phone or via Skype, it’s helpful if your spouse or another person can be on the phone or Skype with you.
Having someone with you can be especially helpful if certain parts of the discussion become too emotional for you. It’s also helpful for your children to see there’s someone else supporting both you and them during your fight against cancer.
Tell your children about the treatment plan as honestly as possible in an age-appropriate way.
Be sure that your children know cancer isn’t contagious.
Answer your children’s questions. If you have to go through chemotherapy and will lose your hair, it’s important to tell even young children so that they don’t become frightened by the change in your appearance. Also, it helps if your children know certain changes are simply part of the treatment plan so they don’t imagine that your situation is worse than it is. As calmly as possible, try to discuss some of the changes they’ll see in your appearance and general health. Also talk about some of the changes they’ll experience in your and their daily routines.
Read relevant books about cancer to young children.
When my children were little, I always found it helpful to read books to them when we were discussing difficult topics.
*Amazon affiliate* I recommend finding children’s books about cancer that are as closely related to your health situation as possible. You can read reviews and “look inside the book” to see if the book seems to be a good fit for your family.
Try to give your children hope and reassurance.
Try to focus on the positives, on the hope that the doctors will be able to cure you. You still want to be honest, but it’s helpful for your children if you can tell them the positives and why you have hope.
Of course, tell your children you love them. Hugs and other physical affection are especially important at this time.
If possible, find ways to let your children feel helpful.
If it’s someone other than yourself who has cancer, maybe you could help your children make a “10 Things I Love About You” book.
Your children could pray for you or whoever has cancer.
Don’t be afraid to let your children help you when you’re going through treatment.
In honor of yourself or someone close to your children, your children might like to get involved in a cancer cause. Maybe your children would like to participate in a cancer fundraiser, such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. My mom, a breast cancer survivor, has a daughter (me) through to a 1-year-old great granddaughter participating in her honor on November 2 as part of the Fabulous Chitwood Ladies Team.
It’s important to continue talking with your children throughout and after treatment. Maybe your children would like to draw pictures or keep a journal to express their feelings. Allow your children to feel sad or angry about your cancer, and let them know they can talk to you when they feel sad or angry. Whatever helps your family work through emotions or feel like you’re working together as a team is helpful. If you communicate honestly and work together as a family, you could give your children strength and ways to cope that will help them throughout life.
BreastCancer.org has a helpful article with answers to questions: “Talking with Kids about Breast Cancer.”
This article from Living Beyond Breast Cancer has helpful suggestions for specific age groups: “Talking with Children about Breast Cancer.”
I’d love to hear what’s worked well for you in talking about cancer with your children.
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