When A Loved One Has Been Diagnosed
With Cancer

Strategies for talking to family and friends about the situation

Talking about Cancer

Cancer affects not only the patient, but the entire family. When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it is normal for children, other members of the family and friends to be shocked and distressed. It can be helpful to openly communicate and understand how best you can support each other at this trying time.

Talking to children when an
adult has cancer

As a parent, you may feel that you are protecting your child by not telling them when someone in the family has cancer. This is natural. However, it is important to consider that children may notice if something serious is affecting their family. If you haven’t had a conversation with them about the situation, they may feel isolated and unable to express their feelings, anxieties and fears.

Children are extremely resilient. If they have clarity on the situation, they may feel less worried and be able to cope better. Having an open discussion with them may bring you all together and make you feel closer as a family. 

Ultimately, the decision to tell your child when an adult in the family has cancer is a personal one, and completely yours to make. Every family’s situation is unique, and as a parent, you are the expert on your child. It is important to trust your instincts and adopt the method that is right for you as a family.

If you do want to talk to your child about the situation, but are unsure where to begin, here are a few things you can try.

Choose the right time and place to start the conversation, when your children are the most likely to listen. Make sure you are not interrupted while having this important conversation.

If you have more than one child, it can be helpful to tell them at the same time so that they can process the information together.

Choose age-appropriate language to talk to them but make the idea as clear as possible.

Use clear language and mention the word ‘cancer’. Educate them about the disease and give them a hopeful vision of the treatment.

Explain that cancer is not an infectious disease, i.e. they will not “catch it” and can still interact closely with their loved one or hug and kiss them.

Be prepared and try to anticipate the kinds of questions your child may ask you. Do not ignore your child’s questions or get frustrated. Instead, try to answer their questions patiently and clearly.

Try to explain how your child’s life and routine is likely to be affected by the new situation. This is something they might worry about and it is important to address it early in the process.

There may come a point in your cancer journey that your might have to talk to your children about death. At this stage, help children form a clear idea about death, as clear as it can get. Avoid using suggestive phrases or stories that may create confusion and result in skewed observations.

It is also a good idea to explain the situation to your child’s teachers or supervisors at school. This can help them be sensitive to your child’s needs and help them be prepared for any changes in behaviour.

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