Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is life-changing. Having to tell your children the news can seem terrifying. While you may be tempted to hide your diagnosis from them, even very young children can sense stress and anxiousness and may assume the worst. It's best to be honest and let your loved ones know what’s going on. Having their support may make a world of difference on the really rough days.
There’s no easy way to tell your kids you have cancer, but here are few things to keep in mind when you have that conversation:
1. Plan what you will say in advance
You don’t need a prepared speech, but you should have a guideline for what you want to say and answers to questions they are likely to ask. For example, they may want to know what cancer is in a general sense and how it will affect your everyday life.
2. Focus on the positives
You may feel overwhelmed and uncertain of the future, but try as much as you can to be positive for your kids. For example, tell them you are getting the best care possible. Let them know the survival rate for breast cancer is promising. Your goal is to reassure them, without offering guarantees on what the future may hold.
3. Provide accurate, clear information
Children are very intuitive and tend to notice more than you think. Withholding information that helps them understand your diagnosis may cause them to come to frightening conclusions.
Don’t overwhelm them with information that they won’t understand. An overview of what’s happening is sufficient. Offer honest, age-appropriate descriptions about the disease, its treatment, and the physical and emotional effects it may have on you.
4. Put your diagnosis in perspective
It’s common for young children to have misconceptions about your disease. For instance, they may think that you’re sick because of something they did. Let them know that no one is to blame for your cancer.
It could also be that they think your cancer is contagious, like a cold. They may think they’ll get it by being too close to you. Take time to explain how cancer works and that hugging you won’t put them at risk.
5. Let them know they won’t be forgotten
Young children need reassurance and routine in times of crisis. You may no longer have the time or energy to provide constant care, but let them know they’ll get the support they need. Give them details about who will be doing what for them when you can’t.
6. Paint a picture of the new normal
While you may not have time to coach the soccer team or chaperone school trips, you will still make time to spend with your children. Outline specific things you can do together, such as reading or watching television.
7. Explain the visible effects cancer treatment might have on you
Let them know that cancer treatment is strong and will likely cause you to look and feel differently. Let them know you may lose some weight. You may also lose your hair and be very weak, tired, or sick at times. Explain that, despite these changes, you’re still their parent.
8. Prepare them for your mood swings
Tell them that when you seem sad or angry, it’s not because of anything they did. Make sure they understand that you love them and you're not upset with them, no matter how hard times get.
9. Let them ask questions
Your kids will likely have questions, some of which you might not have considered. Give them the opportunity to ask anything they have on their mind. Answer honestly and appropriately. This can help put them at ease and remove some of the uncertainty of what it means to have a mom or dad who is living with cancer.