Talking to Kids About Cancer


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This is a conversation no one wants to have, but if you or a family member have cancer, it’s one you have to have.

Shortly after Thanksgiving my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  It was shocking news and I was certainly unprepared to hear it – if anyone ever is.

My mother is staying with us for the duration of her treatment and there will be no way to shield (for lack of a better word) Miss O from the news.  At 5 – almost 6 – years old there are a lot of things she won’t understand, but I want her to have some idea of what to expect and that everything is going to be okay.

I’m no expert, but here’s my plan:

Say Cancer.  I get it.  It’s a scary word.  But kids don’t know words are scary until we tell them they are.  To kids giving something a name makes it less scary, like it’s not the first time this happened to anyone.  It also allows you to have conversations about cancer while the kids are around without having to call them “icky cells”.

Limit the details.  At 5 or 6 years old all a kid really needs to know is that Nana has cancer and that the doctors are working very hard to make her better.  They do not need a detailed understanding of biology, anatomy, and cellular construction.  Some kids may also be worried about “catching” cancer, so you may want to reassure her that it doesn’t work that way.

What to expect.  Things are less scary to kids (and grown ups) when they know what to expect.  Let her know that Nana’s going to feel sick for a while, and that she’s going to lose her hair.  That she’s going to be really tired and probably won’t want to play much.

Be positive.  Cancer sucks, but what kids need to know is that they are safe and loved.  Be honest, but focus on the positive.  Give her ways she can help and let her know that asking questions is always okay.

This fall I’ll be walking in the Avon 39 in honor of my mom.  I’m currently working on raising my $1800 minimum.  I’m selling t-shirts for the cause and I’d love your support.  The shirts are 50/50 cotton and are so amazingly comfortable… the only problem will be taking them off.  Click the image to buy a shirt, or donate directly at Avon 39.

If you need more information check out this website, Telling Kids About Cancer.  It has advice for all age groups of kids.

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