How to tell your children you have breast cancer

A breast cancer diagnosis brings significant change to a family. Hearing the diagnosis yourself is difficult on its own and telling your children won’t be any easier. To help you through that conversation, here are some tips on telling your children after you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Soon after being diagnosed may not be the best time to broach the subject with your kids. Emotions heighten, stress is at an all-time high, and you aren’t finished processing what’s coming in the future yet. With all of those emotions circulating, telling the kids right away may be more detrimental than anything else. If you wait until you’ve found ways to keep calm and stay positive about your situation, you’ll be more ready to handle your kids’ reactions, in case they’re extremely emotional or act out. If you start the conversation while you’re still emotional, your kids will have a harder time interpreting the situation.

Honest is absolutely the best policy here, but some experts suggest adjusting the level of honesty depending on your children’s age(s). Kids younger than 3 may benefit from simply being told that mommy is sick, or has an ouchie, and that her doctor’s are going to make her feel better. Kids at the preschool age and older will better understand what cancer means and may be more aware of it from the Pink Ribbon and other awareness efforts. With them it’s acceptable to use words like cancer, radiation, and chemotherapy. Older children are much more likely to ask questions regarding treatment, care, and how they can help. Even younger children may start offering more hugs or doing small favors like bringing you a glass of water.

Children of all ages will want to know how their life is going to change because of this diagnosis. Even the most empathetic children will worry about who’s going to take them to school, listen to them practice the piano, and cook dinner. They thrive in structured environments and your diagnosis is an upset to that structure. You’ll want to assure children of all ages that you’ll be ok and that their lives won’t change much, except that dad or other family members will be doing some of the stuff you usually do. You’ll want to emphasize the fact that you aren’t contagious and that while your appearance is going to change, it’s only temporary. You’ll re-grow your hair and gain weight back once the treatments end. Tell them that with the help of your doctors, your health insurance, and your family, everything will be just fine. Plus it doesn’t hurt saying that to yourself until you believe it.

There are several resources available for families in this situation. Most cancer treatment centers offer services, like therapy and counseling, to family members of cancer patients. Tons and tons of books have been published on this exact topic and may offer up more advice on telling your kids. There are picture books for younger kids to help them grasp the situation by following a character just like them through learning about mommy’s ailment. It’s also recommended that you let other adults in your kids’ lives in on the diagnosis. Telling teachers, pastors, youth group leaders, and parents of friends will help create a big and supportive network for your kids.

Above all, the more positive you can stay, the more positive your kids will feel. Be ready to answer any questions your kids ask with honesty and positivity; your kids are going to look to you for examples of how to deal with this situation so make sure you’re acting as a good role-model as much as you can. Besides, positive thinking will only benefit you.

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