You may be concerned about telling your children about your cancer diagnosis. Once you have taken the time that you need to adjust to the news yourself, we do recommend that you talk to your children.
Children can be very sensitive to the moods and attitudes of their parents. It is likely that they will realize that something is going on. If you don’t talk with your children, their lively imaginations can provide explanations that may be far more frightening than the facts.
Set the tone. As important as what you say is how you say it. Use a calm, reassuring voice, even if you become sad. This will help your children see how you are trying to cope, and will help them do the same.
Give your children accurate, age-appropriate information about cancer. Don’t be afraid to use the word “cancer.” Tell them where the cancer is on your body. Be sure to let them know that you, and your health care team, have a plan to treat the cancer.
Explain the treatment plan and how it will affect their lives. Prepare your children for any physical changes you might go through during treatment (for instance, hair loss, extreme tiredness, or weight loss). Let your children know how your treatment will affect their daily routines (for example, “Daddy will take you to soccer practice instead of Mom for a while.”) Try to maintain as many of your children’s routines as possible.
Answer your children’s questions as accurately as possible. Take into account their age and prior experience with serious illness in the family. If you do not know the answer to a question, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know. I will try to find out the answer and let you know.”
Reassure your children. Explain to them that no matter how they have been behaving or what they’ve been thinking, they did not do anything to cause the cancer. Let your children know that they cannot “catch” cancer like they can catch a cold.
Let them know they have a support system, too. These people can include your spouse or partner, relatives, friends, clergy, and members of your health care team. Consider telling your child’s teacher, coach or guidance counselor what is going on in your family. Let your children know that they can ask questions of these adults and talk to them about their feelings.
Encourage your children to express their feelings. Share with them that they can express any feelings, even those that are uncomfortable. Also let them know that it’s okay to say, “I don’t feel like talking right now,” if that is the case.
Allow your children to participate in your care. Give them age-appropriate tasks such as drawing pictures for you, or bringing you an extra blanket.
To the extent possible, make communicating with your children a priority. Cancer treatments may leave you with less energy, but try to make every effort to really listen to your children. This will show them how much you love them, and help them to feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns in the future.
For more support in dealing with the children affected by your diagnosis, contact Jennifer Baldwin LMSW, oncology social worker, at 518-886-5648
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