The second most difficult thing to cope with after being diagnosed with cancer, is to inform your children about your illness. Even though it may seem easier to hide the fact from your children, it is better to come out with the truth.
Support groups for children with parents who have cancer, helps them interact with other children, and express their pent-up frustrations in a more constructive manner.
It is natural to get scared after being diagnosed with cancer. For those who have children, it can become even more overwhelming. Parents who do not discuss their illness with their children, refrain from doing so with the aim of protecting their kids from the shock, fear, and stress of knowing that one of their parents is seriously unwell.
However, keeping this information from them would only stress such parents further, who are trying to cope with their illness, as well as maintain a normal environment at home. Children will soon realize that things are amiss and that something is wrong. They will inevitably pick up clues from the hushed and anxious conversations, and the increased visits to the doctor.
You must give yourself time to cope with the news, if you think that you’re not ready to tell your children yet, or that it is too much pressure for you to handle. The sooner you reveal the truth to your children, the better it is, so that they feel like they are with you all the way. This AptParenting article discusses how to tell your children that you have cancer.
Who Should Speak to the Children?
❖ If you’re married or have a partner, ask him/her to be there with you while telling the children about your illness. You can also request your spouse to do the talking for you, while you are present during the conversation. Your spouse can help by consoling and reassuring the children.
❖ If you are a single parent and you think you can handle telling your kids alone, you can do so. However, it would be better to ask a close family member or a friend to support you while talking to the children.
❖Even if you do not want to be the one doing the talking, your family member or friend would be able to handle the situation for you, while you comfort the children.
Have All the Details Ready
❖Before you decide to tell your children about your cancer, make sure that you have collected as much information from your doctor about the type of cancer you have, the stage you were diagnosed with, the expected treatment, and most importantly, the prognosis.
❖ Even though you may not be aware of everything, not leaving out relevant information will help reduce your children’s confusion and anxiety.
❖ You can begin the conversation by explaining what cancer is, how it may affect you, and what it is doing to your health. Tell them where the cancer is in your body, and how it can be treated through medication and chemotherapy, or removed through surgery. Depending on the questions asked by your kids, you may need to explain what chemotherapy does, and how the medication might make you feel weak and sick on some days.
❖ Sharing specific information pertaining to your illness will help the children not get scared about the things they may have seen, read, or heard about cancer.
❖They must not feel as if you’re trying to hide something from them. Do not try to hide the seriousness of your illness, but give your children assurance that your doctor is taking all possible measures to make sure that you get better soon.
❖ Try to use simple words and short sentences in order to minimize any scope for confusion. Use optimistic language and tone of voice, and tell the children that you are hoping to make a complete recovery.
❖ If you are unaware of the answers to some of their questions, let them know that. However, give them your assurance that you’ll try to find out the answers soon enough. If the answer is uncertain, let your children know that some things in life cannot be predicted, and often remain uncertain.
How to Tell Young Children and Teenagers
❖ If your children are still young and do not understand the gravity of the situation, try to explain your condition in the form of a story. Thereafter, ask what the story meant to them. Encourage your children to ask questions based on the story. Gradually, reveal that you’re the one suffering from cancer, while answering their questions.
❖ Since children tend to have a vivid imagination, refrain from using words that may give them a scary visual.
❖ Sometimes, children start believing that they must have done something bad to have caused the parent’s illness. Which is why, it is better to assure your children that they are not responsible in any way.
❖ Let your children know that other members of the family cannot catch the cancer. Most importantly, you will have to assure them that they are not alone, and that the whole family is united to make it through these hard times.
❖ Talking to your teenage children might prove to be slightly more tricky, as they may fall into despair after hearing the news.
❖ Assure your children that many people survive cancer, and as long as proper medical treatment is being provided, there is nothing to fear.
❖ You could also ask your children to read up more on the topic as well, so that you can discuss the condition in detail.
❖ Allow your children to feel like they are doing something to help you. Take them to one of your appointments with the doctor and request the doctor to explain more about cancer, its effects on the patient, how it is not contagious, and what the children can do to help the parent feel more comfortable. Sharing important information will help strengthen the trust and bond your children share with you.
Be Prepared for Facing Questions
❖ In all likelihood, your children may not have grasped everything you told them. They may want to ask a lot of questions, and it may seem as if their questions are never-ending. However, try to answer their questions, whenever possible.
❖ While they ask questions, try to find out what they know and think about the situation. You will also need to correct them, in case they have misunderstood or jumbled up facts.
❖ You may need to repeat things to them, until they begin to understand the recent changes happening to your health, and the state of the family.
❖ You will also need to prepare yourself for answering questions about death. If your prognosis seems hopeful, let your children know that your doctor seems hopeful about you getting better.
❖ However, if such dire possibilities exist, assure the children that, irrespective of the outcome, they will be loved and taken care of by the other parent and family members, and that they are not alone.
You know your children more than anyone else, and they trust you the most. You, being the parent, are the best judge on how to you tell your children about your illness, the approach you should take, and the words you must use.