How Kids React to Parents With Cancer

December 31, 2015
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According to the American Cancer Society in 2015, there were an estimated 1,658,370 new cancer cases diagnosed and 589,430 cancer deaths in the US. In 2015, they estimated that about 589,430 Americans are expected to die of cancer, or about 1,620 people per day. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US, exceeded only by heart disease, and accounts for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths.

Here is an interesting snapshot of trends between Males and Females:

Male Cancer Trends


Female Cancer Trends

Speaking to your children about your Cancer can be an intimidating task. You, as their parent, know your children best so you will understand their reactions and will know how to support them during this time.

Age is a very important factor in deciding how much you tell your children about a cancer diagnosis. You should tell the truth in a way that they are able to understand and prepare themselves for the changes that will happen.

Drawings or books may be a way to help younger children understand, while teenagers may need some encouragement to ask questions.

All children, regardless of their age, need to know the following basic information:

  • The name of the cancer, such as breast cancer for example
  • The part of the body where the cancer is
  • What the treatment will entail
  • How their own lives will be affected

Set up a quiet time when you will not be disturbed. You may even want to talk to each child alone so that the information you give is tailored to each child’s age and understanding.

Young children (younger than 8) can be told that the human body is made up of lots of different parts. When someone has cancer, it means that something has gone wrong with one of these parts and it’s stopped doing what it’s supposed to do. Part of the body is no longer normal. Cancer can spread and grow into other parts of a person’s body, so the person needs a form of treatment to either take out the tumour or to stop the bad cells from spreading to other parts of the body.

Generally, older children may be able to understand a more complex conversation. They may even want to see pictures of cancer cells or actually read about it themselves.

Along with the above, make sure to stress the following:

  • You cannot catch cancer like a cold or the flu—it is OK to hug or kiss the person with cancer.
  • It is not anybody’s fault – no one caused the parent to get cancer
  • The family will work together to cope with the cancer and treatment
  • Although the parent may not have as much time and energy with them, the children are loved and will be looked after while the parent is sick.

Children will need reassurance that nothing they did caused the cancer and that there will always be someone to look after them.

Encourage them to ask questions and express their feelings.

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