Orange Coast Radiation Oncology Center

Talking To Your Kids About Your Cancer

Shock. Fear. Sadness. These are just a few of the emotions that are likely ruling your world after you have a diagnosis of cancer. While discussing the diagnosis with your spouse or parent may be tough, telling your children may be one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have. It may seem smart at the time to try to protect your children by not telling them what you are going through. But, this can often do more harm than good. Cancer experts in Orange County say it’s
often a better idea to tell your children the truth in a way that they are able to understand and prepare themselves for the changes that will happen in the family. The much-sought-after routine of childhood may be disrupted by your cancer treatment and recovery, so give them a chance to be ready. Here are some ideas that can help you communicate your cancer diagnosis with sensitivity and care.

What Do Your Children Need To Know About Your Cancer Diagnosis?

The amount and detail of information you need to tell your children about your cancer diagnosis will depend on their age and maturity. Younger children (up to age 9) will not need that much detailed information, while your teenager will need (and want) to know more. Age will also matter when it comes to your children’s reactions and concerns. What your teen is concerned about will likely be very different than the concerns of your 5-year-old. At a minimum, you should plan on telling your children the basic details of your cancer diagnosis including:

  • The name of the cancer, such as breast cancer or lymphoma
  • The part of the body where the cancer is
  • How your cancer can and will be treated in Orange County
  • How their own lives will be affected

Make A Plan In Advance

First, you should wait until you have all the details or as much information about your cancer diagnosis as possible before you tell your children so that you will be able to answer the questions that they may have. According to experts, children will understand better if they can see the whole picture, and not just the pieces. You will also appear more positive about your cancer if you have more information, which will transfer a confidence to your child. If you have a spouse or partner, consider asking them to help explain some of the information to help reassure your children that there are many others who care for them.

Take some time to consider exactly what you want to say to your child and how you want to say it. If it helps, write down the words to help get them into your head. Remain calm, but don’t be afraid to show emotion. If you have children with wide age ranges, you might consider discussing it with them separately so that they can feel free to ask the questions that are concerning to them without worrying about upsetting a younger sibling. Try to encourage open communication about the topic from the very start so that your children will not feel afraid about bringing up any concerns or questions they may have down the road. Set aside a quiet time to talk to your child, preferably at your home or in another comfortable location. Turn off all potential interruptions – phones, TVs, games – and allow ample time for your child to absorb the information and ask questions.

What, Exactly, Should I Say?

The is going to depend on the age of your child, but the general rule from experts is to be honest and adjust the simplicity of the language based on their age. Remember, you are the expert when it comes to knowing and communicating with your child. Try explaining the basics and then give them a chance to ask questions. Here are a few guidelines and some common concerns about your cancer diagnosis and treatment that may be brought up during this first conversation.

  • Don’t sugarcoat the language. Use the word “cancer” – not “bad cells” or “lump.” These type of euphemisms may lead to confusion and worry, according to experts.
  • Explain the disease. At the same time, don’t assume your child knows what cancer is or does. Explain the process of cancer and how it may affect your body in a simplified version that your child can understand. Let them know if you have breast cancer, prostate cancer, brain cancer, or whatever specific type it is and how it may be different than a cancer they are more familiar with. Ask your Orange County cancer experts for books, pamphlets or diagrams that can help explain cancer to children. Consider using a doll to help you explain the location of your cancer.
  • Be honest about your feelings. If you are not in pain, tell your child that you feel fine. But if you are having any discomfort or fatigue, tell your children how you feel. Tell them that “mom may need to rest more” or that “the cancer makes dad grouchy sometimes.” Also, explain the side effects of the treatments you will receive. For example, say “Mom is going to need some extra rest while she gets treatments for her cancer.” Or, “The medicine that I need to take to get better is going to make my hair fall out so I’m going to be wearing some fun scarves and hats.”
  • Be hopeful and positive. Your children will need to hear that you are hopeful about the potential positive outcomes of your cancer treatment. Unless you have specifically been told that your time is limited, make sure they understand that you can be cured and that cancer doesn’t mean you will die soon. Give them examples of famous people that they will know who are cancer survivors.
  • Get rid of any guilt. Children can often blame themselves when a parent is diagnosed with cancer of any type of bad things happens to a parent. Younger children and teens alike may believe that they did something wrong, were angry with their parent, they didn’t appreciate their parent enough and so cancer is a way that the Universe is punishing them via their parent. You can say something like, “Our doctors remind us that no one knows what causes cancer but it is definitely not caused by any person – it’s not anything that anyone makes happen.”
  • Tell them it’s not contagious. Many children may worry that since you have cancer, they might also get the disease. Make sure you reassure them that cancer is not contagious – you can’t “catch” cancer like a cold or flu. And it is not hereditary – passed down from parent to child. You can ask your doctor for more backup on this issue and maybe even have your older child attend an appointment with one of your Orange County cancer experts to ask questions directly.
  • Discuss the impact on their lives. It’s unrealistic to think that your children’s lives will not be affected by your cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. While you will do your best to get help with some of the physical aspects of caring for your children, there will be times when you will be unavailable to do what you have in the past and that you will not have the emotional energy to handle their needs. The better you can communicate this, the easier it will be for your children. Let them know that, “Grandma will be picking you up from piano lessons.” Or that, “While mom is in the hospital, Aunt Cheri will be staying with you and going to watch you play your games, even if mom and dad can’t be there.” Just make sure they know that you will work as a family to cope with cancer and its treatment.
  • Let them help. Even though you will not want them changing their everyday lives because you have been diagnosed with cancer, they will want to help and it will be good for them to feel like they are helping you. Ask older children to take on some additional responsibilities with their younger siblings, or around the house. Ask younger children to create a get well card that you can hang by your bed or in your hospital room. These things give children a sense that they are contributing in some way to your recovery.
  • Answer Questions. When you are finished, ask your children what questions they have and address their concerns as best you can. If you don’t know the answer to their questions, use the Internet to see if you can look it up together. Don’t be surprised if your children don’t know what to say. It may take them some time to absorb the information and come up with questions they want to ask. Just let them know they can come to you with their questions or concerns at any time.
  • Express your love. In the end, remind your children just how much you love them, how much you would do anything for them, and repeat this throughout your cancer treatment and recovery.

Where Can I Find Additional Support?

If your child seems to be having difficulties dealing with your cancer diagnosis, seek help form your Orange County pediatrician or child psychologist. Common signs of coping issues include being quiet and withdrawn and, surprisingly, hyperactivity. They may also have trouble concentrating at school or misbehave in class. Also be aware if it appears the cancer diagnosis is not affecting your child at all. Children who appear to be normal, may be masking their emotions and may need interventions. Be sure to tell your children’s school counselors and teachers about what is happening at home so they can let you know if there are any unusual reactions happening at school and so they can talk to your child. Ask your cancer specialists about support groups in your area for children or families.

Find Advanced Cancer Treatment At Orange County CyberKnife

The cancer experts at Orange County CyberKnife Radiation & Oncology Center truly care about each patient they serve and will do their best to answer all of your questions regarding type of cancer you have and your cancer treatment options. OC CyberKnife treats almost all types of cancers with advanced radiation technologies that can offer the best outcomes in many instances. Our patients appreciate our skilled and personalized approach and our friendly atmosphere as you can see from their testimonials. Let us help ease the worry of your cancer treatment. Call us for a consultation at 714-962-7100 today!