Telling Your Children About CancerIN CANCER
When a parent receives a diagnosis of cancer, explaining the disease to children can be difficult, but it’s an important step in the coping process. An honest discussion about what is happening to Mom or Dad can prepare children for changes and diminish their fears and uncertainty.
Keeping cancer a secret can be exhausting and futile, as children will sense the anxiety and concern, whether or not it has been discussed. Be sure to stress the following in your explanation:
- Cancer is not contagious, spreading like a cold or influenza.
- Each child is loved and will be taken care of even though the parent is sick.
- It’s not his or her fault that Mom or Dad has cancer.
- The family will cope with cancer and its treatment together.
In the Loop
Maintain your child’s trust by explaining cancer in an age-appropriate manner. Children ages 8 and younger do not need all the details but might benefit from a more general explanation, such as: The body is made up of many parts that have special jobs. Cancer occurs when some of those parts stop doing their job. To stop or remove these bad cells that should not be there, his or her loved one is having treatment.
Older children might benefit from seeing pictures of cancer cells or reading age-appropriate resources that explain cancer treatment. Encourage your children to ask questions.
According to the American Cancer Society, all children should know these basics about a parent’s cancer:
- How the cancer will be treated
- Name of the cancer, such as lymphoma or skin cancer
- Part of the body affected by cancer
- Ways cancer treatment will affect their lives
| No Hair, No Problem
For help explaining cancer and its treatment’s effects, parents can read books that shed light on the topic. Nowhere Hair, by Sue Glader, tackles the difficult subject of hair loss with rhyming text and whimsical illustrations.
The picture book is written for children ages 3 to 8, but will appeal to all ages. On a search to find her mother’s missing hair, the pint-sized protagonist learns cancer is not her fault, she can’t “catch” cancer, and though tired, cranky and bald, her mother is still up to the task of being her mother.
Throughout the search, readers learn more about cancer treatment and hopefully gain comfort. The final message—that it’s not important what we look like on the outside but the inside that counts—is universal.
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Sources: cancer.org, hospicenet.org, nowherehair.com, amazon.com