May 15, 2008

When a Parent or Grandparent is Diagnosed With Cancer


Be age-appropriate. Use words that are common and familiar and children will have an easier time understanding cancer and what to expect. Use simple and concrete terms. For example, you might say: “Grandma is sick with an illness called cancer. The cancer happened on its own; nobody did anything to make it happen. She has very good doctors, and is doing everything possible to get better.” Finding out what they might have heard about cancer is helpful so you can clear up any misinformation.

Be honest. From the time of diagnosis be honest about the cancer and the treatment. Keep the children informed by having frequent conversations. This will help them feel safe and secure. Request they come to you with any questions or worries and explain that you will tell them the truth and if you don’t know always know the answers you will try to find them out.

Explain that cancer is never anyone’s fault. Pre-school aged children may have “magical thinking.” They believe that if they say or think something, it can come true. That’s why it is so important to let children know that nothing they did or said caused the cancer.

Explain that cancer is not contagious. Young children often think of being sick in terms of catching germs. Let them know they can’t catch cancer like a cold. Tell them they can still hug and kiss each other just like always.

All feelings are okay. No matter what their age, it’s important to let children know that what they are feeling is normal and okay. Encourage them to talk and share their feelings. Help them find appropriate ways to express themselves such as drawing or painting a picture.

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