How do you talk to your children about your cancer diagnosis?
r Treating a cancer diagnosis is stressful enough for a patient, but telling children the news can be even more difficult. How much should you share? What if they ask a question you can’t answer? Will they collapse in the news? As you approach the conversation, it’s important to be honest about your experience and treatment, says Lynne Bourne Friend, MD, a psychiatrist at The Hospital of Philadelphia. Parents want to protect their children, but they often hear what’s going on. People like to think that kids don’t know. they know. They are not stupid, and if you remain silent they may feel that the situation is worse than it really is, or they may have distorted thoughts.
Provide age-appropriate information and tell children where the cancer is in their bodies. Also use the word ‘cancer’ and tell them it’s not contagious. They may think you caused it, so explain that it’s not true. Encourage them to express their feelings and share their feelings. Tell them that Their health has changed. But your love for them has not. Let them know what to expect, like hair loss. Be honest about your feelings, but don’t weigh them down.”
Liv Arnold knows firsthand how intimidating it is and how important these conversations are. In 2016, two days before his daughter’s sixth birthday, Arnold learned that she had stage 2 breast cancer. Arnold’s son was 3 years old at the time. She and her husband talked to the children about cancer “in a nutshell” and kept it objective. “I said, ‘I have cancer here in my right breast,’” Arnold recalls. “I showed them the package. I said: Do you feel this way? This is what the doctor helps me with. I told them about the mastectomy and that my body was going to change.”
He said the kids weren’t very interested, and they didn’t ask many questions until the side effects started showing up. She said, “My son was afraid when my hair became dark.” “He hid and was nervous. And if we were at a school event and my daughter was enjoying playing games and I was saying we had to go home because I’m tired, she would cry and say she hates cancer. I’d say, ‘I hate it too, but that means the drug works'” .
Dr. Bornfriend encourages patients to be transparent with their children, saying it helps calm fears of the unknown. “I think it’s important to let them come to therapy, to know what it is and what not, and for people to get to know your parents and take good care of them,” he says. “Otherwise you disappear somewhere and they don’t know where you are going or what that means.”
After the surgery, Arnold showed his children the ports, drains, and burns caused by radiation. I wanted to help them understand why it was so uncomfortable. But he always made sure to communicate that all he was doing was getting his health back.
Transparency is the key
Transparency should extend to even the toughest questions, says Dr. Bornfriend. “If they ask if you’re going to die, reassure them that you and your doctors are doing everything they can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he says. Remind them that you have good doctors. If they ask what will happen to them if you die, who will take care of them, check your plan for them. Let the children direct the conversation. If you have questions, it is important to be honest. Kids can sense when you’re not being honest and need to be able to trust what you say.”
Connecting them with adults they know and trust (a teacher, aunt, scout leader, or church leader, for example) can be beneficial because it provides the opportunity for a child to express their concerns and feelings to another person. patient. Dr. says. .
Even when kids ask questions, don’t be surprised if they aren’t interested in the answers. “In the middle of a response, they can walk away or change the subject, and that’s OK,” says Dr. Bornfriend. “They can take small bits of information and then finish.”
Here is a summary of Dr. Bornfriend’s tips that may be helpful in talking to your children about their cancer:
- Be honest and use the word “cancer.”
- Use age-appropriate language to explain where the cancer is and what children can expect during treatment (eg, “Mom may need extra rest” or “Mom might lose her hair”).
- Explain that cancer is not contagious and no one is to blame.
- Let them know that their energy and happiness encourage your recovery.
- Encourage them to share their feelings with you or other important people in their lives.
- Give them opportunities to help you.
- Cuddle them every day and let them know that while their health has changed, your love for them has not.