Telling the kids

We need a bat signal or something. Mothers with cancer, alert!

I spoke last night with a new friend, a mom who has just been diagnosed with (early stage) cancer and has to tell her children today. She’s having surgery on Monday and doesn’t want them to worry, but does want them to understand. The kids are 3 and 6-ish. Between us, we have 20 perspectives of how to tell the kids, and dozens of links and ideas and reassurance.

Moms with cancer, could you please take a moment and post a link to your stories or something that helped you in talking to your children?

I told her about the site last night, and she may come looking today….

This is a chance to really help “that mom” who is out there looking for us.


15 Responses to Telling the kids

  1. Hi,
    My children were 1, 3 and 5 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer (in 1990). They are now grown and doing absolutely great. Happy and healthy.

    My advice is to tell the truth, couched in love, hope and support.
    Keep it simple: “I have a lump/boo-boo/owie in my breast. It is called “cancer” and the doctors are going to take it out on Monday.

    * Use the word “cancer” so it doesn’t become a scary and emotionally charged word.
    * Tell them what they can expect to happen IN THEIR WORLD and that they will be cared for.
    * Tell them they can’t catch cancer. Liken it to a broken bone (and tell them it is not like a cold you can catch from someone else)
    * Tell them it is nobody’s fault; it just happened.

    A few resources:
    THE HOPE TREE. KIDS TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER. This book is geared to 3-6 year olds, so it is perfect. You can order from Komen online. Very inexpensive.

    WHEN A PARENT HAS CANCER. A GUIDE TO CARING FOR YOUR CHILDREN. This book covers everything from diagnosis through recovery. You can read the applicable sections as you deal with each stage. Practical. Uplifting.

    With hope, Wendy

  2. Sarah S. says:

    Here is the link to my post about how iI told my kids. My daughter was 5 at the time.

    Good luck tomorrow! I hope your surgery goes well and I will keep you and your family in my prayers!

  3. francesbarrie says:

    I was very casual when I told my kids (girl 8, boys 11 and13). I didn’t do a whole sit-down talk as I think that makes it more serious and scary. I told them individually as matter-a -factly as I could.

    It helped that there are many women (unfortunately) in my town who had been through different forms of treatment and I focused on how well they were doing. So if your friend has any examples of living breathing survivors, that helps.

    I also used the resource room at Dana-Farber where I go for treatment. They gave my kids backpack with age-appropriate materials on coping with a parent with cancer.

    It’s an on-going thing, because she ill find with each stage of treatment comes a new reason for the kids to be scared but as long as she keeps the lines of communication open , they should feel safe.

    One thing I found though, my kids were hesitant to talk to me about their worries because they didn’t want to upset me. It helps to have another adult, husband, aunt, friend that they can talk to as well.

    I wish your friend the best.


  4. lorri steer says:

    I too took the casual approach with my youngest (who was justing turning 5 at the time.) “Mom has cancer and she has to take some medicine that’s going to make her hair come out…isn’t that weird?”

    I also stressed that it wasn’t something she could catch. I found keeping it very matter of fact was best…if I was calm, she was calm. I found what she really cared about was if I would be able to make her toast in the morning and that kind of thing.

    I’m sorry you have to go through this but I think you will be delightfully surprised how much your children can take this in stride if you set the example.

  5. whymommy says:

    Here’s a link from another mom in our group —

    I don’t have much to share about this myself, as my kids were only 2.5 and 5 months at diagnosis. We took it slow, in steps, and appropriate to what they needed to know. At first, just “Mama’s too tired to play right now.” Then, “Mama’s going to see the doctor today,” and finally, the discussion about the hair. When my hair started to fall out from the chemo, we talked a lot about it, and my oldest and I wore matching bandanas. I spent the time that I was able to with them, and talked gently with them about the rest.

    It’s not easy, though. I wish it were.

    Oh, and we have a special section of our site of resources for kids whose moms or dads are diagnosed with cancer. Click on for a collection of sites, books, and other resources to check out.

  6. Fran and Lorri’s comments are wonderful. My family took the casual approach, also. I’ve met many Moms who have told me, “My efforts to help my kids ended up helping me more than I would’ve dreamed.” That is certainly the case for me.
    With more hope, Wendy


    This is the link to the answers that Lynnette (therapist) provided. I have been wanting to post about a new(revised) book that KidsKonnected has out called Moxie… it is Hope the Bear rewritten and beautifully illustrated.

    here is the link for now:

  8. We discussed everything openly and honestly, focussing on what we knew and not speculating.

    My youngest was seven and we told her very simply that I have cancer, that I was having surgery to remove the cancer, and that I would be fine.

    The only thing I really have to add to what was said above is that we asked the kids if they have any questions.

    You might be surprised about what they ask!

  9. oops. one more thing.

    If they ask something that throws you for a loop, it is ok to say “let me think about that for a minute” while you gather your thoughst and figure out how you want to respond.

  10. throwslikeagirl74 says:

    Heh. Susan already linked my post. So I was going to say I did something similar to Wendy. 🙂

  11. I told my six year old in September, when that Stand Up for Cancer was on tv. We watched it together and I pointed out to her that all the people wearing the “Survivor” t-shirts meant that they had treatment and now were doing fine. I think it helped her to see that. Maybe your friend could find some clips of the show on You-Tube or something.

  12. […] the speech — and check out what happened when I posted the young mom’s dilemna over at Mothers With Cancer.  I’m so proud of those moms, rallying to another’s side, when they’ve never […]

  13. whymommy says:

    What a good idea. She and her kids have been involved with Relay for Life since they were in utero — so they know survivors. I suggested that might help; I hope it does.

    I wish I knew her better — we just met on Wednesday — but I hope she drops by this site to check us out, and finds this here.

    I want her to know something important: you are not alone.

  14. Cindy says:

    I have been dealing with breast cancer with mets since my son was 14 months old. I have always been very open and honest about my diagnosis and prognosis. My children are now 11 and 13 and they don;t know me any other way. I have always felt that they would be more afraid if people talked behind their backs and they were not aware of what was going on. Believe me, people always talk and children always hear. My disease has continued to progress, but my kids are always aware of the information first hand. They know their mama could die and there have been a few occasions when that was pretty close to reality. We don;t dwell on my illness. My husband is great with all of this and as a family we take it one day at a time. God has been good to allow me to watch my children grow up.

  15. Cindy, wow! That is so encouraging!!!

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