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Even though your children will be sad and upset when they learn about your cancer, do not pretend that everything is okay. Even very young children can sense when something is wrong. They will see that you do not feel well or are not spending as much time with them as you used to. They may notice that you have a lot of visitors and phone calls or that you need to be away from home for treatment and doctor's visits.

What the family talks about in the evening, the child will talk about in the morning. --Kenyan Proverb

Telling Children About Cancer

Children as young as 18 months old begin to think about and understand what is going on around them. It is important to be honest and tell your children that you are sick and the doctors are working to make you better. Telling them the truth is better than letting them imagine the worst. Give your children time to ask questions and express their feelings. And if they ask questions that you can't answer, let them know that you will find out the answers for them.

When you talk with your children, use words and terms they can understand. For example, say "doctor" instead of "oncologist" or "medicine" instead of "chemotherapy." Tell your children how much you love them and suggest ways they can help with your care. Share books about cancer that are written for children. Your doctor, nurse, or social worker can suggest good ones for your child.

Let other adults in your children's lives know about your cancer. This includes teachers, neighbors, coaches, or other relatives who can spend extra time with them. These other adults may be able to take your children to their activities, as well as listen to their feelings and concerns. Your doctor or nurse can also help by talking with your children and answering their questions.

How Children May React

Children can react to cancer in many different ways. For example, they may:

be confused, scared, or lonely
feel guilty and think that something they did or said caused your cancer
feel angry when they are asked to be quiet or do more chores around the house
miss the amount of attention they are used to getting
regress and behave as they did when they were much younger
get into trouble at school or at home
be clingy and afraid to leave the house
"Now that my Mom has cancer, everything is changed. I want to be with her, but I want to hang out with my friends, too. She needs me to help with my little brother, but what I really want to do is play football like I used to."

Teenagers and a Parent's Cancer

Teens are at a time in their lives when they are trying to break away and be independent from their parents. When a parent has cancer, breaking away can be hard for them to do. They may become angry, act out, or get into trouble.

Try to get your teens to talk about their feelings. Tell them as much as they want to know about your cancer. Ask them for their opinions and, if possible, let them help you make decisions.

Teens may want to talk with other people in their lives. Friends can be a great source of support, especially those who also have serious illness in their family. Other family members, teachers, coaches, and spiritual leaders can also help. Encourage your teenage children to talk about their fears and feelings with people they trust and feel close to. Some towns even have support groups for teens whose parents have cancer.

What children of all ages need to know:

About cancer

Nothing your child did, thought, or said caused you to get cancer.
You can't catch cancer from another person. Just because you have cancer does not mean that others in your family will get it, too.
Just because you have cancer does not mean you will die from it. In fact, many people live with cancer for a long time.
Scientists are finding many new ways to treat cancer.
About living with cancer in the family

Your child is not alone. Other children have parents who have cancer.
It is okay to be upset, angry, or scared about your illness.
Your child can't do anything to change the fact that you have cancer.
Family members may act differently because they are worried about you.
You will make sure that your children are taken care of, no matter what happens to you.

About what they can do
They can help you by doing nice things like washing dishes or drawing you a picture.
They should still go to school and take part in sports and other fun activities.
They can talk to other adults such as teachers, family members, and religious leaders.

Adult Children

Your relationship with your adult children may change now that you have cancer. You may:

Ask your adult children to take on new duties, such as making health care decisions, paying bills, or taking care of the house.
Ask your children to explain some of the information you've received from your doctor or to go with you to doctor's visits so they can also hear what the doctors are telling you.
Rely on your adult children for emotional support. For instance, you may ask them to act as "go-betweens" with friends or other family members.
Want your adult children to spend a lot of time with you. This can be hard, especially if they have jobs or young families of their own.
Find it hard to receive--rather than give--comfort and support from your children.
Feel awkward when your children help with your physical care, such as feeding or bathing.

As the adult daughter of a woman with ovarian cancer said,

"Mom was always the rock in the family. Whenever any of us had a problem, we could go to her for help. Now we had to help her. It was almost as though we were the parents and she was the child. To make it even harder, we had our own children to take care of and jobs to go to."

Talking With Your Adult Children

It is important to talk about cancer with your adult children, even if they get upset or worry about you. Include them when talking about your treatment. Let them know your thoughts and wishes, in case you do not recover from your cancer.

Even adult children worry that their parents will die. When they learn that you have cancer, adult children may realize how important you are to them. They may feel guilty if they haven't been close with you. They may feel bad if they cannot spend a lot of time with you because they live far away or have other duties. Some of these feelings may make it harder to talk to your adult children. If you have trouble talking with your adult children, ask your doctor or nurse to suggest a counselor you can all talk with.

Make the most of the time you have with your adult children. Talk about how much you mean to each other. Express all your feelings--not just love but also anxiety, sadness, and anger. Don't worry about saying the wrong thing. It's better to share your feelings rather than hide them.

One who conceals grief finds no remedy for it. --Turkish Proverb

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 February 2009 06:06
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