How do you tell your child you have cancer?
Telling a child about cancer and dealing with a child's sickness
Q: I HAVE recently been diagnosed with cancer and I am terrified. Most of all I am worried for my eight-year-old son.
I don't know how to tell him or what to tell him. At present, I am looking well but I know that will change once chemo begins. Any advice you can give will be helpful.
There is probably nothing more dreaded or feared than cancer. Once a person gets that diagnosis, it can seem as if life has stood still.
When a parent has cancer they worry for themselves and for their children. It is only natural to feel overwhelmed and be in a state of shock. I hope that your recovery is a full one and that you proceed well through your treatment.
It is usually best to tell the truth, but to simplify it, to your child. You don't have to go into a lot of detail. It will be best to say something like, "Mommy isn't well right now and will be getting help from doctors and nurses."
Even such a simple statement as this may be enough at the present time, especially since you have just received your diagnosis.
Trying to explain too much will only cause unnecessary anxiety in your son. After all, you yourself can hardly predict the future and are not yet aware of all the treatment options you will soon learn about.
It will be important for you to listen to your son and be aware of his emotions. You will be, I'm sure, tuned into him and notice if he is fearful, anxious, confused or upset. It will be important to notice if there are any significant changes in his behaviour at home, school or in the community.
Children often display their upset by behaviour instead of words. The more attentive you are to his emotional state the better you will be able to comfort him.
It is also important to rely on family to help support you and your son. If you have a partner then he or she can be helpful in comforting your son. There is nothing to be gained by taking all the responsibility onto your own shoulders.
Family is a significant source of comfort. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, although they will all be dealing with their own feelings, can be a positive support for your son.
Involving a nurse or a doctor in dealing with your son may be useful as well. Having someone in a position of responsibility for your care talk to your child may be a great relief to him. Remember not to project too far into the future.
Take things as they come to you and deal with them as best you can. Look after yourself also: rest, eat properly, get proper exercise and remember to bring laughter and love into your daily routine.
The most important thing for your son is that regular routine is maintained as much as possible, and when it can't be maintained, that he be prepared for the changes.