It can be hard telling your children about your breast cancer -- the way they cope will depend on their age and maturity.
Children are very perceptive and will sense if something is wrong, so it's better to talk to them about what is happening as soon as possible. For a child to learn that they have been 'misled' with even the noblest of intents provides a context for mistrust, anger and resentment.
'As children grow, they need further explanations and updates about the disease - take a cue from their questions but 'keep it simple.' --Ivana
Your children may feel a range of emotions and express these in different ways, from behaving badly to putting on a brave face. Making sure that your child understands that their needs and concerns will be addressed can go a long way in reassuring them.
Psychiatrist, Dr. Jane Turner, offers the following advice for how to help your child come to terms with your breast cancer diagnosis.
Things that will probably help
- maintaining routine
- negotiating tasks
- telling children it is not their fault
- encouraging children to participate in sport and normal activities
- giving information in stages
- letting children talk even about difficult things
- letting the school know
- letting them see that you are upset sometimes.
Things that probably won't help
- keeping secrets
- letting go of structure and rules
- giving orders
- telling children to be 'good for mummy'
- expecting children to spend all of their time at home 'because time together is precious'
- talking about possible outcomes into the future
- rushing to reassure
- trying to fix everything for them
- always adopting a facade and pretending everything is OK.
'Initially, I tried to hide what was happening to me from my daughter. But I realised that she needed to know and when I explained things in small pieces she coped well.' --Karen
- The My Journey Kit Information Guide has more information on talking to children about your breast cancer diagnosis.
- Members of our online network may be able to share their experience of telling their children about breast cancer.
- The personal stories section includes some stories by children of women diagnosed with breast cancer
- The Beacon issue 7: How do families cope with a breast cancer diagnosis? - Winter 1999
- The Inside Story issue 27 includes an article on talking to children about secondary breast cancer.
- Our reviews section includes some books that are specifically written for children
- My Parents Cancer website -- Interactive Cancer Australia website for 13-19 year olds, that aims to help Australian families communicate about cancer and assist young people with their emotions.
- Now What? website -- Website developed by CanTeen for young people (12-24 years) who have a family member with cancer. Booklets are available to order from the website, including Dealing with your parent's cancer, which can be downloaded from the website.