73TAB FOUR | TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF patient guide
Talking to Your Children About Cancer
It is easy to communicate with our families when it is something good we are sharing. Even when it bad, it’s easier when
it doesn’t impact us personally or there isn’t a high degree of uncertainty. It is a natural reaction to protect our loved ones,
especially children, from anything painful in life and a cancer diagnosis will probably be the most difﬁcult thing you and
your family will ever face together. The keyword to remember here is “together.” Just like the times they needed you to
help them face life’s challenges whether it was learning to walk, facing speed bumps in school, not getting picked on the
sports team, or the ﬁrst broken heart, you are going to need each other now. Now is the time to remind them how families
love each other unconditionally, share emotions and face even the most difﬁcult battle together.
No matter the age, experts and research have proven that it is best to be honest and upfront with children of all ages.
This may prove to be the hardest decision you face as a parent and in your cancer journey. It is the journey that they will
have to make with you, and there really is no way to protect them from having to do so. However, there are steps and
ways to help them understand how their surroundings are changing and to let them know that you are in this together and
can trust you to be truthful with them. Making a decision on how to communicate the diagnosis with your children will
probably be the bravest decision you will ever make for them.
Understand that not telling them will help foster fear of the changes that are going to take place in their life and they may
imagine something worse than cancer happening. They may hear about the diagnosis from someone other than you in
a way that would be different than what you would wish for them to experience. If they are not included, they could feel
left out and may not understand why everything is changing around them. This will place unnecessary strain on you and
your family. Allowing them to be there for you now will show them you trust them to take this journey with you as a family.
As you start thinking about how to talk to your kids, know that there are many resources and healthy tips to help you with
this task in your journey. You do not have to travel this road alone. There are books, counselors, support groups, and
many other avenues to assist you, and we are here to help you ﬁnd the resources you need.
It is important to recognize your child’s developmental age. Communication with small children is still very effective and
necessary, but should be approached differently than a discussion with a teenager, for example. There are some common
points that all age groups share and these can be carefully planned in advance which can help you achieve the healthy
discussion you desire of this difﬁcult topic.
The ﬁrst thing to consider is how you are handling the diagnosis yourself. Children often learn how to handle stressful
situations from their parents. You may need a few days to absorb the diagnosis yourself before sharing with them, which
is perfectly acceptable. While it is best to not approach them while you are at your highest level of anxiety or most upset,
it is also best not to expect to share little to no emotions together at all during this time. In other words, it is perfectly
normal and helpful for you to cry when you tell them. Showing your feelings will enable them to know that it is acceptable
for them to feel sad with you and this can be very therapeutic for all of you. Allowing them to know you are upset about
this can help them cope with their own feelings and know their feelings are normal.
Timing is also one of the most important aspects of any serious discussion a parent can have with their children. Planning
the time you tell your children, whether or not you wish to have others present to assist when you tell them, and being