YOUR CANCER GUIDE | HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER
Children who are given age-appropriate
information and whose routines are not
too disrupted usually learn to adapt. This
is reassuring for parents who expect to
get through treatment and be well for a
period of time—hopefully a long time.
Parents who must contend with an unfavorable prognosis face a bigger challenge.
You know your children best. Trust your
instincts, but realize they will be colored
by your own intense feelings. Talk about
your strategy with your spouse, a clergy
member or a friend before you share the
news with your kids. In most cases, you
can take time to process your diagnosis,
but don’t put off sharing the news with
children too long. The atmosphere in your
home will change immediately after you’re
diagnosed, and your children may sense
the shift. Secrecy may only fan their fears.
Here are some guidelines:
1) Be honest. Resist the temptation to lie
about sensitive matters.
2) Avoid euphemisms. Your children may
overhear words such as “cancer” or
“chemotherapy.” Be sure they know
what these words mean.
3) Give them information gradually. You
don’t need to overwhelm them in a
single conversation. Think of it like sex
education; bring up the subject, tell them
what they need to know immediately,
and be prepared to revisit the topic.
4) Find additional helpers. Talk to your
family members, close friends and your
children’s teachers about what is happening at home. Ask them to be an extra
PHOTO COURTESY OF BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER
Cancer patients who are parents may expend a great deal of energy thinking about how their disease will affect their children. It’s natural to be concerned about the effects of your diagnosis on
your children’s emotional well-being and development, especially if they
are school-age or younger.
Your Young Children
Follow these tips for discussing your diagnosis and treatment plan with your kids.
set of eyes and ears and to be ready to
provide additional support to your kids.
5) If your children are struggling, connect
them with a counselor at school, or ask
your health care team or pediatrician
6) Prepare your children for big changes
and events, such as hair loss, hospitalizations and surgeries, before they happen.
7) Consider taking your children to visit
your treatment center and meet your
caregivers. This is almost always
reassuring to them.
8) Have an answer ready if your children
ask if you are going to die. Unless your
death is imminent, it’s OK to say “no.”
You’ll have an opportunity to prepare
your children if the time comes. Here
is one possible response: “This is not
the time to worry. If that time ever
comes, I promise that I will tell you.”
HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER, a licensed independent
clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor and
the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She also writes a
blog, Living With Cancer, for the hospital’s website.
TO LEARN MORE
Telling Kids About Cancer provides advice for sharing
news about your cancer diagnosis with children of
CancerCare for Kids features podcasts, educational
workshops and free counseling for parents,
children and adolescents.
Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child When a
Parent Is Sick is a thoughtful resource written by
psychiatrists Paula K. Rauch and Anna C. Muriel.
Available at bookstores and online.