Saturday, November 12, 2011

Family Matters: Talking To Your Children About Cancer

Even though your children will be sad and upset when they learn about your cancer, do not pretend that everything is okay. Even very young children can sense when something is wrong. They will see that you don't feel well or aren't spending as much time with them as you used to. They may notice that you have a lot of visitors and phone calls or that you need to be away from home for treatment and doctor's visits.

What the family talks about in the evening, the child will talk about in the morning.
--Kenyan Proverb

Telling Children About Cancer

Children as young as 18 months old begin to think about and understand what is going on around them. It is important to be honest and tell your children that you are sick and the doctors are working to make you better. Telling them the truth is better than letting them imagine the worst. Give your children time to ask questions and express their feelings. And if they ask questions that you can't answer, let them know that you will find out the answers for them.

When you talk with your children, use words and terms they can understand. For example, say "doctor" instead of "oncologist" or "medicine" instead of "chemotherapy." Tell your children how much you love them and suggest ways they can help with your care. Share books about cancer that are written for children. Your doctor, nurse, or social worker can suggest good ones for your child.

Let other adults in your children's lives know about your cancer. This includes teachers, neighbors, coaches, or other relatives who can spend extra time with them. These other adults may be able to take your children to their activities, as well as listen to their feelings and concerns. Your doctor or nurse can also help by talking with your children and answering their questions. Or you can ask them if there's a child-life specialist on staff. This is a person who can help children understand medical issues and also offer psychological and emotional support.

How Children May React

Children can react to cancer in many different ways. For example, they may:
  • be confused, scared, or lonely
  • feel guilty and think that something they did or said caused your cancer
  • feel angry when they are asked to be quiet or do more chores around the house
  • miss the amount of attention they are used to getting
  • regress and behave as they did when they were much younger
  • get into trouble at school or at home
  • be clingy and afraid to leave the house
"Now that my Mom has cancer, everything has changed. I want to be with her, but I want to hang out with my friends, too. She needs me to help with my little brother, but what I really want to do is play football like I used to."

Teenagers and a Parent's Cancer

Teens are at a time in their lives when they are trying to break away and be independent from their parents. When a parent has cancer, breaking away can be hard for them to do. They may become angry, act out, or get into trouble.

Try to get your teens to talk about their feelings. Tell them as much as they want to know about your cancer. Ask them for their opinions and, if possible, let them help you make decisions.

Teens may want to talk with other people in their lives. Friends can be a great source of support, especially those who also have serious illness in their family. Other family members, teachers, coaches, and spiritual leaders can also help. 

Encourage your teenage children to talk about their fears and feelings with people they trust and feel close to. Some towns even have support groups for teens whose parents have cancer. Also, ask your social worker about Internet resources for this group. Many have online chats and forums for support. 

What children of all ages need to know:
About cancer
  • Nothing your child did, thought, or said caused you to get cancer.
  • You can't catch cancer from another person. Just because you have cancer does not mean that others in your family will get it, too.
  • Just because you have cancer does not mean you will die from it. In fact, many people live with cancer for a long time.
  • Scientists are finding many new ways to treat cancer.
About living with cancer in the family
  • Your child is not alone. Other children have parents who have cancer.
  • It is okay to be upset, angry, or scared about your illness.
  • Your child can't do anything to change the fact that you have cancer.
  • Family members may act differently because they are worried about you.
  • You will make sure that your children are taken care of, no matter what happens to you.
About what they can do
  • They can help you by doing nice things like washing dishes or drawing you a picture.
  • They should still go to school and take part in sports and other fun activities.
  • They can talk to other adults such as teachers, family members, and religious leaders.

No comments:

Post a Comment