• How did you tell your kids you had cancer?

    Asked by sueglader on Friday, January 20, 2012

    How did you tell your kids you had cancer?

    A sit down serious talk? A passing comment on a walk? You let someone else do it? Or maybe you never did? Would love to hear from everyone.

    17 Answers from the Community

    17 answers
    • cranburymom's Avatar

      Hi Sueglander
      It was very hard for us.
      Doc's office gave as a couple of books and told us 'what to expect' from children in general. The books weren't helpful as they did not overlap with the age levels. My kids are 6th and 8th grades.

      Not sure your situation but do not hold your breath (*** please note this was my case)

      It was kinda our fault that we did not use the word "cancer". But we told them that i am very sick and will get sicker. But everything will be OK in the end.

      My daughter, "mommy, i will help you", still laying on the couch.
      my son, "are we done now?"

      Basically, they are so involved in their lives. As long as their social lives are intact, they will try their best to ignore it.

      What I learn much later from other moms....
      a couple of things you can do

      1) contact your school guidance counselor, tell her/him what you and your family are facing. she can confidentially send out a note to corresponding teachers, so they can give you heads-up or pay extra attention, as needed.

      2) give them time to digest the news first, then, later, assure them that it is OK to tell close friends (or more!) to share their feelings.

      3) talk to moms of their friends and share your concern. we totally break down when it comes to kids' stuff. if you are like me, my heart broke each time they have to give up their social gatherings. your moms will keep it together for you.

      4) if your kids do some sports or activities outside of school, please do tell them too. they can arrange rides, or send you pictures when you cannot attend their showings, or classes.

      5) leverage this time to educate kids. I have breast cancer, so I worries for my daughter. So we learn together about healthy eating and what to eat organic and what are safer, etc.

      6) start doing some activity together. my daughter and I started to do "senbazuru" a thousand crane origami. To make a wish come true - once we are done, we will leave this to the infusion room, as inspiration art.

      I have not found any common ground with my son - this is a hard one!

      Good luck and keep us posted.



      almost 5 years ago
    • danellsar's Avatar

      Well, my kids are very different ages, so each one was different.

      My daughter is 17, so we told her pretty much right away. She knew something was wrong with her dad, and he'd been sick for a while when he finally got his diagnosis. We just came out and told her, then explained about chemo and treatments and such. We told her it was not curable, but that we'd be fighting as much as we could for as long as we could. She was ok with that, and has asked questions from time to time.

      My son is 7, so it was a whole different story. We waited to tell him for a while, in part to see how hubby would react to chemo. When I decided it was time, I got a couple of books from Amazon and took him to our local library. I didn't want him to be at home where he would get distracted by toys and stuff.

      With my son, I started by asking him what he thought was going on with his dad. Then I corrected mis-information and told him about cancer. We read a book together, and then I answered questions. When we were done talking, we went out and ran around at the playground for a while. Since then we've read a couple of books about a parent having cancer, and talked about it. I've tried to avoid talking about death and dying too much, and instead talked about treatment and the doctors doing all they can to make dad feel better. I haven't hidden the fact that some people die when they have cancer, but neither have I dwelled on that.

      almost 5 years ago
    • RuthAnne's Avatar

      I have two adult daughters (early 20s) and I told them right away when we found out that "something" was wrong. One came the next day and stayed with me during my week-long hospital stay. The other came shortly after when I had surgery. They cope very differently. One still cries every time we talk about my cancer and sometimes other people's cancer. The other, who is a health care professional, told me fairly bluntly, "We'll be okay without you, Mom." Both of their ways of dealing with it are tough, but in different ways.

      almost 5 years ago
    • Cazbah's Avatar

      I haven't really discussed it very much with my kids, but I will be going through treatment soon and will surely be more tired and probably a little sick. I have bought a few books on Amazon for the kids different age levels. My boy is 5, my daughter is 10. Hopefully reading together and answering any questions they have will help. Hope that helps.


      almost 5 years ago
    • RebeccaLynn25's Avatar

      My son is 6 and we told him that I was sick and that I was going to be sick for awhile, but that I was going to be ok. I also had a parent/teacher conference and she said she would keep an eye on him and let me know if he starts acting out. I explained to him that I wasn't going to have any hair because of the medicine I had to take, but that it would grow back. And he loves my hair! He'll take my hat off and kiss my head and if I say anything about my hair, he'll tell me it's ok, just put a wig on or he tells ME that it will grow back! I showed him the port and I told him I had a box in my chest which is where I get my medicine to make be better. His Papa just passed away from cancer 2 months prior to my diagnosis, so I eventually told him we both had cancer and explained that there are different types of cancer and that we had caught mine early so I would get better. He's gone with me a couple of times when I've had to get a shot so he's seen the room where I get the chemo and he's seen the other patients and know that's what I do, when I go. The first time I took him to get a shot, he was real protective and told them they needed to take care of his Mama. The whole time, I've kept a good attitude and I just tell him when I'm not feeling well or I'm tired and he understands. He'll tell me to go lay down. I've found it's best to be honest with him so he can be sensitive to it and understand it. He definitely keeps me smiling! :)

      almost 5 years ago
    • sueglader's Avatar

      Thank you girls for all your thoughts. It's interesting how the word "cancer" is often not used with kids. Parents really fear what that word can do to children. Would a five year old know the word "rutabaga"? I think as adults we do layer on our own fears to our children, and I'm pretty sure that's not doing anything good for anyone. The little ones, anyway.

      almost 5 years ago
    • danellsar's Avatar

      Sue- The books that I found are pretty good. They use the correct words. Cancer. Chemotherapy. Surgery. Radiation. The kids need to know what those are because those are big and scary concepts, but knowledge is power. If they understand that chemotherapy means getting medicine that will kill the cancer cells, then all the side effects are easier to understand. It's still a scary thing, a frightening thing, to see a parent change so much, but at least knowing what is happening helps to calm the irrational fears.

      almost 5 years ago
    • CountryGirl's Avatar

      Hi, Sueglader,

      Much of what I did goes along with Canburymom. I have two daughters, 10 and 11 at the time of my diagnosis. I also looked for books to provide answers and found none.

      These are the things that I did:
      1. I met with the girls to discuss my situation while I was helping them do something that they loved (for Evan that was grooming her pony and for Lane that was baking cupcakes) and told them that I had cancer; that I would do everything possible to survive (because of tumor size my survival chances were about 30%--a fact I intentionally left out); that I would be very sick; that they could help me by preparing meals, doing laundry, dishes, getting along with each other, and talking to me or Barry whenever they had questions; and finally, I set a goal.

      For Evan the goal was a horse trailride in Colorado. During chemo, I bought a horse for myself to cement my commitment. I've finished treatment and our reservations are made for this July.

      For Lane, the goal was more difficult. She wanted me to still bake with her, and I couldn't. A friend who decorates cakes professionally volunteered to help Lane explore new techniques while I was sick.

      2. Talk to the schools. As an educator myself, I knew that I needed as many extra eyes on my two daughters as possible. I told the counselor, administration, teachers. We had some difficulty because a boy harassed the girls by saying every day that I was going to die. They were very upset. I suggested that the boy might have had someone very close to him die of cancer and asked the counselor to call his parents. I was right.

      3. Make it fun!!!! When we shaved my head, it was a family event. Barry and I let the girls cut my hair anyway they wanted. Then, when it was a complete mess, he shaved my head into a mohawk while they oohed and ahhhhed. Finally, he shaved me bald. They still laugh: "Remember when we shaved Mom's head!"

      4. Get them away from you (not all the time, but occasionally). I made sure that a friend would come and get them and take them out to experience life a little.

      5. If possible, don't arrange your chemo around work, arrange it around your family. Several people have chemo on Thursday or Friday so that the weekend is their worst time and they can work the weekdays. I did the opposite. I took chemo on Monday so that I was my best on the weekends to at least sit outside and enjoy watching them play.

      6. Let them feel "in the loop". I let my kids see the radiation area, the chemo room, etc. I told them what the doctors said. They knew that I was being honest with them and, for the most part, sharing what I knew.

      I think that telling my kids was harder than hearing the words myself. I hope this helps.

      almost 5 years ago
    • derbygirl's Avatar

      Hi Sueglander

      I feel a little funny answering this question because I don't have children. However, I have raised my niece since she was born so I hope that counts. When I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in 2008, my niece was 14. She wanted to come to the hospital but I told my Mother to send her to school and keep to her normal routine. She called me later that night after my surgery. I told everyone I would speak to her in my way.

      After I went through my recovery from surgery, I took her for a girl's weekend to the beach. I wanted to tell her the news in the one place that I am at piece. We took a picnic basket out in the morning and had a beautiful picnic breakfast on the sand overlooking the ocean. I began our conversation with giving her the details of my illness and explaining everything in a way a 14 year old can understand. I showed her the information the doctors gave me. Then it was time for total truth. I told her to ask me any questions she had regarding my cancer and told her to be honest about her feelings. I was surprised when she only asked me one thing and that was "Are you going to die?" I told her that was something that was in God's hands but I was going to do everything I can to be around as long as possible. I told her that I have always been a fighter and I am too old to change my ways now.

      Well March 4th of this year I will be 4 years cancer free. My niece and I continue to have our special girl's weekends for our talks and she continues to ask questions. As she gets older it gets a lot easier to explain things because she is capable of understanding more.

      I guess what I have been trying to say is find a special place for you and your children, talk to them in way they can understand, and allow them to ask questions and express their feelings.

      almost 5 years ago
    • sueglader's Avatar

      Country Girl - love your goals with each of your girls. I am just reading a book about the power of goals, and what they do for us.

      And I really appreciate the ATTENTION you all have given to this discussion.

      Clearly, many of you have found the words. But how? Did they just come naturally? Did you ask your nurse or on-staff social worker? Did you run to the library? Or hit up Amazon? Did you Google "talking to kids about cancer"?

      Maybe it is just inherent for some ...

      almost 5 years ago
    • RebeccaLynn25's Avatar

      I'm definitely not good with words, I tend to write better! The words didn't come easy at first, I cried when I first told him. And no I didn't research it, I just tried to find ways to explain it to where he could understand it. I'd tell him and then make sure he understood what I said and if he didn't I'd explain it another way. The males in my family tend to just not deal with sickness or death. My mom said we needed to keep my son sensitive to what I was going through so he'd be understanding now and when he did get older, he was able to deal with sickness and death better because he had been exposed to this situation and not sheltered from it. I want to be an example of someone who's staying strong and fighting with a good attitude because I want him to live his life that way. Anytime I talk to him about it, I let him know that I'm going to be ok. I might feel bad today, but I'll feel better tomorrow or next week. My son asked me last week why I had a box in my chest and I had already told him a few months what it was and what it was for. He'll ask questions when he wants to know something. Just be honest with them! It'll be one more person who you love that will understand and support you.

      almost 5 years ago
    • pattycake's Avatar

      My Children and Grandchildren are adults so it was easier than if they were young. They knew I hadn't felt well for a few months. I kept them informed about DR appointments but waited until I had the diagnosis and prognosis, which DR expected it would be a good outcome. I took a tape recorder to record exactly what DR said and let them listen to it. I tried to stay positive throughout treatment so they didn't worry quite so much. The outcome was good and we are all grateful. If it had been devistating news and I was sicker, I probably would have taken a different approach.

      almost 5 years ago
    • Kris' Avatar

      I have a 12 and 9 year old, though they were 8 and 11 when I started. THe one thing my husband and I promised at the beginning to our boys was that we would always tell them the truth. They could ask us anything and we would answer with the truth. I did buy some books, by the third one they were both sick of hearing about it. That was one thing I noticed was that life becomes very centered around your disease and everyone asks about you and wants to give you help. So at one point I asked all my friends through my blog to reach out to my children with cards and encouragement. Wow! did that help! They loved the attention and knowing people were praying for them.

      I also did the same as Countrygirl--I let my boys shave my head and we had a lot of fun laughing at that adventure. My husband is also bald so he and I decided to do silly pictures while we were both bald and the kids were involved in that. We would dress up as Mr. Clean and the kids helped with our pictures, then we dressed up as Megamind. (the boys helped paint my head blue!) We posted all these pictures on my blog sight. We had just a great time!

      Another thing I did the same as Countrygirl was scheduled my chemo for Monday so I would feel well by the weekend. I had it every Monday for 12 weeks. Now I do my three weeks while they are at school.

      Keep a positive attitude and be storng, it's contagious!

      almost 5 years ago
    • NanciHersh's Avatar

      I was diagnosed with breast cancer 9 years ago, for the first time (and then again last year) when my sons were 3 and 5. My cousin Ellen called me one day from Colorado and asked how I was doing. I told her that I knew I would be ok but didn't know how to tell my children. That next day she emailed me a beautiful story she wrote for me to share with them- which I did, sitting on our bed.

      3 years later, I illustrated that story. We now have a children's book titled Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings: When someone you love has cancer... a hopeful, helpful book for kids to help other families find their words as well.

      My children were then, and still are my beautiful butterflies (though, now as teenagers they sometimes need to be reminded!)

      almost 5 years ago
    • LadyM's Avatar

      I have 2 children, 8 years old and 6 years old, my diagnosis was 2 years ago so my oldest was our main concern. I told him the truth, I was sick, my doctors were taking good care of me. We told the school staff so they would be aware of any new behaviors. We also gave warning about the hair loss, the down time after chemo and surgeries. We found that telling the kids the truth left little to the imagination and really opened up good dialogue.

      about 4 years ago
    • codiem's Avatar

      My kids were 1 and 3 when I was diagnosed and I was given a very good prognosis, so I decided not to tell them. They were going through enough with their daddy being deployed at the time. Since then, on the days I feel less than great I just tell them mommy doesn't feel good today. Since I had hypothyroidism before my diagnosis, they are used to my "down" days, they are just a little worse for me now... but I don't let them see that. When they are older I will tell them. I want them to know the importance of check-ups and early detection, I just think they are still a bit too young.

      about 4 years ago
    • KimmieC's Avatar

      I have 6 children, the breakdown at the time was: 16 yr old boy, 14 yr old boy, `14 yr old boy, 13 yr old girl, 7 yr old girl, 4 yr old son. I told them about 3 days before I had to have my first surgery. I called a family meeting, (my husband skipped out on this), and I told them everything I knew about my diagnosis at that time, told them I would answer any question they had as best I could. Whenever I was going to have a big surgery or treatments, I would tell them how I thought it would affect me, and if I needed anything from them (ie, help with younger kids, etc.) I got 6 different reactions, from "I dont want to know anything I dont have to" to "I want to be with you every step of the way" to tears and anger. I also went to the school the first week of school and gave all their teachers a "please let me know if you see acting out" speech. I went through some great books from my cancer center with my youngest son. I let my girls help me pick out a wig, and I let my oldest daughter be completely involved with my care after surgeries. If my sons wanted to see my changed body, I let them. I also let the oldest ones see me at my sickest after the chemo tx. I needed them to know why I wasnt working, why I couldn't cook and clean some days, why they had to do the laundry. Why I couldnt go to their games sometimes. I think that being honest is the best policy, and that most parents have a natural instinct about what each child can deal with and what they can't.

      about 4 years ago

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