Explaining cancer to your children
You are a parent before you are a cancer patient.
Explaining the changes, challenges and realities of your diagnosis to your child(ren) and supporting them through it can be daunting and difficult. We have some tips and resources to make it easier...
Telling your child(ren)
It is your choice if you tell your children about your cancer diagnosis and treatment or not. This can be a difficult and sometimes distressing experience. Some families prefer not to include the children, while some families find the honesty and openness hugely beneficial.
Make sure you set aside time to tell them, without expectations to go anywhere, or do anything demanding before or after. Leave enough time to allow for questions and big emotions to be expressed.
Choose a place where you all feel comfortable and where it is safe for big feelings to be expressed.
Use language that is appropriate and accurate (some of the books and resources below can help with this).
Don't be surprised if they do not react as you expected. Some children will need time to process what they have been told and their questions or emotional response may come later (even days or weeks later!).
Let them know they can ask questions and where you suggest they ask them. You might encourage them to come directly to you, or to a trusted adult, such as a grandparent or teacher, if they prefer.
It may be helpful to inform their nursery or school, in case they exhibit any behavioral or mood changes. This will allow the staff to adjust their provision to best support your child(ren).
Consider using books, videos and other resources to support understanding. These should be age appropriate, and will ideally support what you have already told them. We have a few suggestions to get you started...
Suggested Resources - Online
The Fruitfly Collective is an incredible organisation that host a variety of resources specifically to support children who have a parent diagnosed with cancer.
Their award-winning Cancer Cloud Kits provide "tools to help improve communication within the family, practical tools to help manage changes in the family’s routine, and tools that explore the emotional impact a cancer diagnosis brings." They are available for all ages, from 3 - 14yrs.
They also have a comprehensive library of articles and videos that go into more detail about talking to and supporting your child(ren) when you have cancer.
Suggested Resources - Books
Children under 6
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
The Invisible String is the perfect tool for coping with all kinds of separation anxiety, loss, and grief. In this relatable and reassuring contemporary classic, a mother tells her two children that they're all connected by an invisible string.
Only One Of Me by Lisa Wells
The Only One of Me project grew from Lisa's determination to leave a lasting legacy for her daughters and her desire to help other families rally against the difficulties of loss.
Mummy Goes To Hospital by Lynsey Gregory
Written by one of our own Star Mums, Mummy Goes To Hospital is a beautifully illustrated story of how life changes for 3 year old Theo and his baby sister Tillie when their mum is diagnosed with cancer. In simple language it explains how mum's energy levels can change, how their daily routine both changes and stays the same, and some of the tactics Lynsey used to stay connected to her children during treatment.
You can request a copy of this book free of charge from your Information & Support Worker, or they can be purchased from the Star Store.
The Secret C by Julie Stokes
The Secret C: Straight Talking About Cancer aims to support families talking about cancer. It uses illustrations and straightforward language to give a basic explanation of what cancer is, the treatments involved, and how it might affect the person living with cancer. Feelings are also addressed and reassured. The book also reinforces the importance of trying to keep as close to the usual family routines as possible and still being able to laugh and have fun.
Age 10 upwards
Some of these titles can be accessed, free of charge, through your Information and Support Worker.
It is possible that your child could benefit from external emotional support such as counselling, art/creative therapy, play therapy etc.
If you would like to look in more detail at what is available in your locality, ask your Information and Support Worker or email firstname.lastname@example.org.