Let’s discuss speaking about cancer with your children.
Posted by Nicole_admin on Mar 29, 2016 12:10 pm
Let’s discuss speaking about cancer with your children.
Posted by Ronald on Apr 7, 2016 10:47 am
Kids learn through their parents’ behavior. Although parents know this, they are under a great deal of stress and have their own intense feelings of fear and uncertainty. Making then involved with all the discussion help them deal with the added stress in the home.
"Parents know that children engage in “magical thinking.” They believe they are the center of the world and that they can make all kinds of things happen. Children can also believe that bad things happen because they have been angry with their mom or dad. So when a parent gets sick, children often feel guilty and think they are to blame for the cancer. Kids usually won’t tell you this, so it’s a good idea to reassure them about it."
As friend coined this phase "cancer is not a stone that hits one person, it hits the whole flock."
When a friend became a caregiver for his mom, my girlfriend and I would take thier kids over to my sister's for a saturday and evening sleep over for several reasons. First so the parents could have some quality time alone. But also to let the children get away from the stress their parents are under with all the disruptions in the household. And to give us the time to talk to let hem know they have other people to vent to, as they often feel they don't wish to burden their parents.
The Canadian Cancer Society web site has some wonderful things for parents to consider about this. Telling Children
All I can say is be honest with them, don't sugar coat it. Yeah it does require one to simplify it down with all the terms, but honesty is the key.
I am most curious on hearing how your experiences with involving you children with your cancer journey has gone, as I can see it at every Relay event I have attended and see the strength children have.
Posted by Nicole_admin on Apr 14, 2016 4:40 pm
Posted by Lacey_adminCCS on Jun 6, 2016 12:47 pm
When my dad wa dx with stage 4 tongue cancer things moved fairly quickly. It wasn't long before he had a feeding tube and regular nursing care. I was on maternity leave with my second child at the time and spent a lot of time with my parents. She immediately knew something was different. We explained that Papa had a disease. We decided to label it as a disease because we noticed that after my dad got sick when other people got sick she would always ask if they were "sick like papa". I think although we did not mention the seriousness of his disease she knew this was serious. When the nurse would come see dad Emilia would offer him her teddy bear to hold while she checked him over. Whenever my mom called she would always ask how Papa was that day.
When my dad received a terminal diagnosis and was told he had 2 months to live, I didn't tell Emilia. She would talk on and on about how the doctors were going to make him better and I didn't say anything. At that point I couldn't go there, I was still digesting it myself. During this time they changed dad's medication and for awhile he had some more energy and he wasn't feeling as sick from the chemo he had been on, so for awhile he seemed better. Emilia picked up on this, and it made it harder to tell her. It wasn't until the last few days before he passed that he slowed down.
A few days before my dad passed away I took my girls to visit. Dad couldn't talk but was sitting up in his chair. Something about the visit made Emilia uncomfortable she cried the whole time and asked to go home. This was not like her, she always asked to visit Nana and Papa. I took her home and thought to myself maybe I can't bring her there anymore. I talked to a colleague who reminded me it's ok for her to cry and feel sad to see him that way. Thats when I remembered all of the reading I had done about talking to kids about cancer. That evening Emilia said to me Papa has a disease, but he is not going to die right? I felt like this was it, I had to be honest. I feel like I blurted out "Yes he is". She looked at me and said he is??? and I said yes. I wasn't sure how she would react. She thought about it for a little while and started to talk about our dog and my aunt who recently passed. She also said that she would still talk to him everyday.
The day before my dad passed Emilia asked to go and see Papa. I was nervous she would talk to him about him dying. We walked in and she immediately gave him a new toy ball she recently got and told him to take it to heaven with him.She was more comfortable this visit and again offered him her stuffed animal while the nurse tended to him. We didn't know this was last time she would see him.
Looking back I realize I handled it the best I could. I answered questions honestly and started where she was at. Perhaps I could have been more open with her about the prognosis being that it is obvious that she understood he was getting worse.
In the early days after he passed,she spoke about him everyday and would often yell looking at the sky 'I love you Papa". I admit it was hard to hear him talk about him so often. It would often make me cry, and then she would tell everyone Mommy was crying because she missed papa. Today 3 months later she speaks of him less. Now I find myself sad that she speaks of him less. Sometimes it seems you can't win. She has a picture in her bedroom, and seems to talk about him more when my mom is around.
Talking about cancer is hard. Kids are all different and have different understanding of cancer and death. What I have learned is honesty, and being open are key. Also its ok to cry and its ok for them to cry. Having a support system to bounce ideas off of and support you in telling them was key for me.
I wish you all well in your journey of talking to kids about cancer.
Posted by Lacey_adminCCS on Nov 8, 2016 4:21 pm
I came across a resource that I thought others may also find helpful. It's called "Frankly Speaking About Cancer: What Do I Tell the Kids?" . It breaks down each age group and their level of understanding and possible behaviours. It also talks about commonly asked questions.Note: It is an American publications so some of the suggested resources at the end may not apply.
If you are looking for resources available in Canada you can always contact the Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333,
I hope others find this helpful,
Posted by sanbaral on Feb 16, 2018 12:39 pm
Posted by Elsie13 on Feb 16, 2018 10:21 pm
Posted by Lacey_adminCCS on Feb 20, 2018 10:33 am
It's understandable that you are finding it difficult to talk to your kids about your husband's cancer. Often times we are worried about upsetting them but chances are they already know how serious things are and could already be feeling upset. Talking about it keeps them in the loop and gives them time to ask questions and process things. We have some tips for talking to children about cancer here- many of the tips still apply for young adults.
You don't have to talk to them alone. Do you have a trusted family member or friend who could help? Have you ever met with the Social Worker at the hospital? The palliative care team may have a Social Worker involved who can sit down and talk about things.
I thought you might find our booklet Advanced Cancer helpful. You may also want to connect with jorola and MalcolmS who both have experience supporting their children through their spouses cancer experience. Any tips you guys can offer? We also have a discussion area for spouses here.
I wish you all the best- I look forward to hearing from you,
Posted by sanbaral on Feb 20, 2018 12:03 pm
Posted by MalcolmS on Feb 20, 2018 6:43 pm
Posted by Kims1961 on Feb 21, 2018 10:30 am
I have 2 children close to the ages of yours - 21 and 23. Just as i was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, our son was moving from Ontario to British Columbia. Our daughter , 21 is much more communicative and was easier to have some discussions with, our son on the other hand is very different.
Others have given some excellent suggestions on the supports out there and ways to talk about cancer with your children. I found with our son it was sometimes easier to communicate via text, email or when we were doing an activity - for instance driving. Our son came home at Christmas and i know he was upset that i now also "look" sick but he couldn't communicate this to me. I found that if he and i went for a drive together - to get groceries for instance - sitting parallel and chatting was much easier that across a table. We used to mountain bike together so that was when we had our best "talks" rather than the family dinner sit down ones. Is there something your daughter and your husband enjoyed doing together? It might be through a "safer" avenue, it can be opened up to any questions or worries she may have?
I also found with the kids, it was a process - much like it was for us. They have so much access to information on the internet, it was important that we were open if they had questions - it was also very "normal" to be angry, even at the cancer patient. It's hard to see someone who has been strong in a weakened state - this is a normal reponse .
It sounds like you are doing an awesome job of caring for everyone and looking at the best well being in this difficult situation. Hope you are also taking care of you!
Posted by sanbaral on Feb 21, 2018 11:01 am
Posted by Billyh on Apr 16, 2018 11:38 am
Posted by Kims1961 on Apr 16, 2018 6:23 pm
I've copied some info. from cancer.ca website about telling children. The wonderful thing about children is that they are a great distraction, remind us to enjoy the moment and live life but also are a worry for their care if we are sick. I have two grown children, so much easier but also I don't want their lives "burdened" by my cancer.
Their are some good suggestions in the article. As your daughter is only 6, some easy language that she can uderstand is often best. It suggests that it is ok to use the word cancer - cancer is not necessarily a death sentence and as you stated it's a small town and she may pick up on it anyway. Sounds like you have a wonderful close relationship with her. Are their other family members who can help with this? For instance if you were in hospital could someone bring her to visit you , if that were appropriate? This might be an awesome time to connect her with other family members that can support her...and you at the same time.
A fundraiser sounds like a very supportive idea for the family. It may also help her to know that there are lots of people who care and are working together to help your family. Mentioning that you might die, may be too soon to discuss until you have more information from your doctors.
I hope this is helpful.... keep me posted.
Depending on the age of your children, it might be difficult to know how or what to tell your children about your cancer diagnosis, treatment or prognosis. Even so, it’s important to be honest with children because:
- They will know something is wrong anyway.
- Children may imagine the worst if they are not told otherwise.
- Children can feel isolated or anxious if they aren’t told about what is happening around them.
- They may feel betrayed or stop trusting you if they hear the news from someone else.
- If you pretend that everything is fine, children may feel that they have to keep their worries to themselves. They may not be able to tell you how they feel.
How to tell children about cancer
- Choose a time to talk when you’re feeling calm. You may want to practise or role-play what you want to say with a partner, relative or friend.
- Try to have another adult present. That way, children will know that there are other adults they can talk to who will support them. If you have a partner, try to talk to children together. If you’re a single parent, you could ask a close relative or friend to be there. A social worker, nurse or doctor may also be able to help with difficult discussions or help answer questions about cancer and treatment.
- Consider having separate discussions if the children are far apart in age or have very different personalities. You can make sure that each child has the time and place to listen and ask questions.
- Try to find out what your children know about cancer and where they learned about it.
- Be prepared to repeat the information, perhaps many times.
- Keep checking that children understand what you are saying.
- Be honest and open, even if the news isn’t good. This helps maintain trust and keeps the lines of communication open.
- Give children time and the chance to ask questions and express their feelings.
What to tell children about cancer
You will be the best judge of how much your child will understand about the situation. In general, children need to know at least enough to be prepared for changes to their routine and day-to-day life.
- Tell them some basic information, such as the name of the cancer, the body part it affects, the treatment and its possible side effects. Try to use terms that children will understand. For example say “doctor” instead of “oncologist” or “medicine” instead of “chemotherapy.”
- Be clear and direct and open to talking about your cancer. Don’t create a feeling that cancer should be a secret by whispering or using terms like “the big C.”
- Reassure children that they cannot “catch” cancer from you.
- Tell children that nothing they did caused the cancer. Children, especially younger children, may worry that the cancer is their fault or happened because they did something wrong.
- Reassure them that you will let them know what is happening and if anything changes.
- Let them know that they can come with you to see the cancer treatment centre and meet your healthcare team. They may say they don’t want to go, but at least they will know that you are open to sharing your cancer journey with them.
- Explain to children how their lives might change. Kids thrive on routine. Cancer treatment can disrupt those routines, so it is important to prepare them for possible changes to school, chores or other activities.
- Don’t be afraid to tell children about your feelings, if you want to. It may help them express their own feelings.
- Tell children how much you love them.
- Be optimistic – there are lots of new treatments and reasons to be hopeful.
Also try to tell other adults in your children’s lives (teachers, coaches and relatives) about what’s going on. These adults may help maintain your children’s routines, as well as listen to their feelings and concerns. They can tell you about any problems that your children may have at school or other activities.
If children ask about death
You may want to prepare yourself to talk about death in case your children ask about it. Many kids may think about it, but do not ask. What you tell children about death will depend on many things, including the type of cancer you have, how easy it is to treat, the stage of the cancer and what the doctor has told you.
It’s important to let children know that you’re willing to tell them the truth and that you’ll keep talking to them as you get more information. You could say:
- “I don’t know what will happen in the future, so let’s think about what’s going on right now. I promise that I will tell you when I find out new information. I want you to ask me any questions you have and I’ll do my best to answer them.”
- “The doctors have told me that my chances of getting better are very good. I believe them and I want you to believe them too. I’ll tell you if that changes.”
- “Sometimes people do die from cancer. I don’t think that will happen to me because the doctors have told me that they have very good treatments these days.”
- “I don’t know what is going to happen right now. I’ll know more after the first treatments are finished. I will tell you then.”
- “My cancer is treatable and my doctors are doing everything to help me get better.”
Read more: http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-journey/talking-about-cancer/telling-children/?region=on#ixzz5CsLnJirC
The cancer website has some suggestions:
Posted by Billyh on Apr 17, 2018 3:24 am
Posted by Lacey_adminCCS on Apr 17, 2018 11:28 am
My daughter was three when my dad got sick. She was a papa's girl. My heart goes out to you.
Even at that early of an age she understood more than I thought. I found it helpful to ask her and get a better understanding what she thought about words like sick, disease, cancer etc...That way I could start where she was at.
They are smart cookies they feel our emotions and know when something is going on. Talking about it makes it less scary for them and helps them learn coping skills.
Hang in there Mom you will likely feel better after you talk with her.
MalcolmS - How old was your youngest when your wife was diagnosed? any suggestions?
Posted by MalcolmS on Apr 17, 2018 9:01 pm
Olivia was 8 when my wife was diagnosed, Jennica was 11.
Her stomache had very quickly become severely swollen (like 9 months pregnant) as a condition called ascites, so our kids knew there was something very wrong with Mom, as we shuffled between doctors and tests over a couple weeks.
It meant that she was already hospitalized and in severe danger before we could even officially call it cancer.
So our messaging to the kids was that here in Canada, we have access to some of the best medical help in the whole world...so while Mom is in danger, she is getting the best care available. Over the next 6 weeks, we were able to get her stablized and strong enough for chemo and home for a few months.
I had to deal with the fact that all the doctors were making it very clear her time was short (possibly very very short). So I felt like I should leave some forshadowing in my conversations with the kids, not enough to scare them, but rather enough to start the process of preparing....
We tried not to make it overly complicated for the kids, but also avoided any lies...
- Mom has cancer, what it means is there is a place in her body where its not working properly. You know how you can get a cut or scrape and then your body makes new skin cells to fix itself? Well Mom has a part of her body inside that is making a mistake when it makes those new cells, they don't match the problem there, and so her body keeps making more of those wrong cells because it knows they are needed but it can't tell that they are wrong.
- She is getting a type of medecin called chemotherapy to try to cancel those bad cells that are piling up, the trouble is chemo also hurts good cells in other parts of her body. That makes her body very confused and tired, so you will see she wants to sleep all the time.
- The medecine affects different people in different ways. Kind of like how I get red sunburns very quickly, but you girls all get more brown and tanned. So we need to try some different medecines and see which ones work best.
- Cancer is dangerous but the doctors have helped lots of people to get better, so we have to try our best to help her get lots of rest so she can stay strong and support her to get better.
- Cancer is NOT like a cold or flu, so you cannot catch it from other people, so nobody has to worry about it being contagious. (VERY VERY IMPORTANT you need to reinforce this MANY times over many days, otherwise kids will worry about you also getting sick and themselves, all adding to their stress)
- There is no danger for anyone about touching Mom or Mom breathing on you, you can cuddle up whenever she says its OK.
- Since she is sick with cancer, we want to be careful not to bring any colds into the room becase that could make it harder for her...important to wash our hands all the time
- You can come and ask me for a hug anytime. Things are going to get a little strange as we have to go back and forth to the hospital, so you can help by trying to keep things tidy around the house.
- There is also going to be some extra medecine around the house, its dangerous for kids so don't touch it.
- GIVE THEM SOMETHING SPECIFIC TO DO, that way they feel like they are contributing and helping Dad get better. Nobody (not even kids) want to be left on the sidelines when a loved one needs help. Such as filling Dad's water bottle, or reading him a story at bedtime, etc.
- Remind them lots of other families also have this same kind of experience/problem, that we aren't the only ones.
- I avoided initiating the conversation about dying, but when asked I tried not to over-promise but instead would talk about the doctors are doing their best, that there is lots of new medecine available, that many people can get better. With my older one I got as far as telling her that it probably means Mom wouldn't live to be as old as she might have, that people without cancer live to be 80 or 90, so maybe it will shorten her life a few years, but that we are doing everything we can to make it as long as possible.
Also might be worth noting that my youngest had her stress manifest as a lot of physical problems, rather than emotional. Upset tummy, muscle cramps, gum infections, it was a continuous run of strange physical ailments that we had never seen before.
Routine is very helpful for the kids.
Also don't kid yourself, they are going to hear everything, so don't get caught in a fib or you risk losing their trust.
Let the teacher and school know what is going on, they can help in small ways if they know.
Good luck, feel free to private message me anytime.
Posted by Lacey_adminCCS on Apr 17, 2018 9:38 pm
Thank you for posting such helpful information about your firsthand experience even though it was tough to talk about. Please know that it is so helpful. I'm sorry that was difficult.
It sounds like you did an amazing job helping your children feel informed and involved. Such helpful tips.
Posted by Small_Latte on Apr 18, 2018 7:52 pm
Our daughter is 6 years old. She knows a girl in her kindergarten class whose mom died of cancer so we are concerned that if we say that daddy has cancer that she will jump to the conclusion that she is going to lose her daddy.
The first hurdle is getting through the brain surgery which will be scary with the bandages but we can talk about the operation to help fix daddy’s head which she will take at face value and understand. She just knows now that he’s not feeling well.
My thought was to delay putting a label on it until we understand what we’re dealing with and when the chemo or radiation start four weeks from now.
I’d love to hear how other people have tackled this with similar age children and if you have any suggestions for me. I haven’t figured out how to cope myself so can’t imagine laying this all on her too.
Thank you all for the opportunity to share.
Posted by MalcolmS on Apr 19, 2018 2:48 am
There's no rush to lable it, so if you think waiting is better than by all means do so, you are her parent and should know better than anyone.
But keep in mind there are going to be a lot of conversations going on (visitors, phone calls, hospital trips, doctors, nurses, etc) and your daughter is going to certainly overhear the word cancer. When that happens, if you haven't been the one to explain then you're leave her to whatever meaning "cancer" has in the schoolyard.
Personally I think its easier for the kids if they feel like we know what the problem is and we are getting help to fix it, rather than leaving them with the scary unknown. They have a lot of trust in parents and doctors/medecine, and while every child has a personality that reacts in a unique way, my girls took the initial illness/diagnosis in stride without too much drama. All she really needs to know is that while some people die from cancer, many people can be helped by the doctors. Just like car accidents....
It also meant when talking in the schoolyard, and other kids said Mom was going to die from cancer, at least I already had them thinking in a preferred direction, giving them a head start on what cancer really means and how to answer that threat.
At some point you will need to sit down with her and explain at least a little bit, my suggestion would be sooner is more likely better than later. But there's nothing wrong with waiting a week or two until you have an understanding of what you're facing.
Tough days ahead for you. But others are going through it too, your not alone.
Posted by Elsie13 on Apr 19, 2018 5:00 pm
And for caregivers: https://cancerconnection.ca/discussions/viewcategory/35
Posted by Cynthia Mac on Apr 19, 2018 6:01 pm
Give yourself a few days, re-read some of the posts in this thread and check out some of the links. You’ve had to take in a LOT in the past few days. Be patient with yourself - you’ll likely need a bit of time to deal with and process incoming information for a while.
I wish you and your husband well as you navigate this.
Posted by Lacey_adminCCS on May 2, 2018 11:22 am
Posted by Poppy on Jun 9, 2018 5:19 am
I haven't told my kids yet (6,10 & 13), but I plan to this coming week. Difficult to know how they will react, especially the 13 yr old, as there were times in recent past that he would be in a rage (mental health issues) and scream at me in anger "get cancer and die!". So, telling him this news worries me a bit about how he will react, given that he has also suffers from depression, and has gone through episodes of threatening to kill himself.
I am also in the process of going through a separation, and found out in court this last week that, because my soon-to-be-ex spouse refused to make any moves whatsoever to change things, and because he has been hiding $$$ from me, and can afford to buy me out of the family home, I'm the one that has to move out, and will only have my kids 50% of the time (not the 60% or more that I was hoping for).
This totally sucks. Some days I want to scream and smash things. Sometimes I go to 'the dark side', and thing 'what's the point.. and what am I even fighting for anymore'? I am angry. This is so unfair. Mostly I don't know who I can talk to about this. So, maybe finding this place/website is a good thing...
Thanks for listening.
Posted by LPPK on Jun 9, 2018 8:37 am
Do you have a good support system? I found it so helpful to have someone drive me to and from all appointments and treatments. As well I always had one or two family members with me at appointments to take down information and ask questions.
Keep us informed how you are doing Poppy, we are here to support you.