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When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer it can be a shock and adjustment for everyone involved, and especially children. How can we best provide support and information for our children when someone they know has cancer?
The American Childhood Cancer Organization is comprised of parents of children with cancer who are dedicated to making childhood cancer a national health priority by raising awareness, supporting research, and providing educational programs. You can help a child with cancer by donating your car to the American Childhood Cancer Organization.
Being open and honest with your child about cancer and allowing him or her to ask questions freely is a vital first step. Below are some guidelines to help talk to your child about cancer.
1. Discover What They Already Know
Begin the conversation by learning what your child has already noticed, heard or thought about the illness of the person they know with cancer. This can help you find out what your child understands and if he or she has any misconceptions or worries.
2. Use Real Terminology
You can go ahead and use the word cancer when you are talking about the illness. Misunderstandings can be prevented with clear language. An example of this might be if you tell your child, “Uncle Jack’s tummy is sick”, he or she may worry that they have the same medical condition and would need that same treatment as Uncle Jack next time they have a stomach ache.
3. Be Hopeful and Truthful
Be sure to inform your child that the medical team is working very hard to help the person feel better and get well again. The person may feel worse for a while as the medicine or treatment (such as radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, etc) does its job. But when the treatment is over, the person will hopefully feel better and be healthy again.
4. Encourage Your Child to Ask Questions
Younger children ages 3 to 6 may ask questions like: How did Uncle Jack get cancer? Can I catch cancer from him? A young child may worry that they somehow caused the cancer. You may need to reassure your child several times that they did not cause the illness and they cannot catch it.
Children ages 6 to 10 are known to believe strongly in the idea of fairness. They may ask questions like, “Why did Uncle Jack lose his hair?”. Using the term chemotherapy and giving basic information about the treatment can help your school-age child understand why their loved one has no hair.
5. Respect the Feelings Your Child Has
It’s hard for children and grown-ups to know what to say or what to do when someone they love is ill. Each child may have a different response. Feeling worried, angry, disinterested or confused are all normal reactions. Reassure your child that you know he or she cares about the person. You may want to possibly share things that have helped you manage your feelings of sorrow and anger about the cancer.
6. Reach Out to Support
Sit down with your child and think of some helpful and loving things you could do for the person or loved one your know dealing with cancer. Some ideas may include things like:
- Make a “Thinking of You” or “Get Well” card to give them.
- Participate in a fundraiser. Collect soda cans or pennies, have a bake sale, join a bike-a-thon in their name.
- Visit and spend time with the person doing quiet things you have enjoyed doing like reading books, chatting, or playing games.
- Prepare and bring the person a meal or favorite movie to watch
- Do a service for them like house chores, shoveling their sidewalk, pulling weeds, walking their dog, etc.