How Do You Talk to Your Children About Cancer?

These tips will help parents tell kids about a cancer diagnosis. Knowing how to talk to your children about cancer may be one of the the most difficult parts of being diagnosed.

When my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, her first thought how she’d tell her family members.

These suggestions for talking to kids about cancer will help you have important, deep discussions about the symptoms, treatments, and side effects of cancer.

A breast cancer diagnosis is scary — but if you focus on how it can change your life in positive ways, telling your kids about cancer may not be as bad as you think.

“My cancer scare changed my life,” says actress Olivia Newton-John. “I’m grateful for every new, healthy day I have. It has helped me prioritize my life.”

Feelings of gratitude, optimism and faith are so important for moms (or any woman) coping with breast cancer. If you are a parent, a major priority is to help your kids deal with cancer. One way to help kids cope are the Kimmie Cares dolls and books, which were created by Kim Goebel when she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

And, here are several suggestions for telling kids about cancer…

Tips for Talking to Children About Cancer

Who should tell the kids, mom or dad?

“This shouldn’t be a job just for mom,” says Marc Silver, author of of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond. “Dad is going to be the go-to guy during mom’s recuperation from surgery, and during chemotherapy, if it’s needed. If mom is too overcome with emotion, Dad might do a solo act. But the ideal is to have both parents talking with the kids. And yes, they should use the word cancer (if you don’t someone else will) and the word breast (no matter how many giggles it elicits, that’s where the cancer is). ”

Be clear and direct

When you first tell your kids you have cancer, be direct. “Mom/Dad was diagnosed with cancer.” Tell them that not all cancers are alike, and new and better treatments are discovered every day. Stress that you – the parent with cancer – is getting good care and treatment.

Accept anxiety and tension as normal behaviors

“Sometimes the treatments and the diagnosis are stressful and scary, so there may be more tension in the house than usual and there may even be crying,” writes Patricia Kelly in Everyone’s Guide to Cancer Therapy: How Cancer Is Diagnosed, Treated, and Managed Day to Day. “This is normal for such a time.”

Let your kids express their fears, confusion, and anger.

Remember that parents with cancer are role models

How you deal with your diagnosis and treatment will affect how you talk to your kids about cancer and how they deal with it. If you’re having difficulty with the cancer diagnosis, see a counselor or consider attending a cancer therapy support group. If you’re a husband whose wife has breast cancer, it may be helpful to read about how husbands can help wives with breast cancer.

Try nonverbal ways of describing cancer to your kids

The Kimmie Cares dolls have removable hair, which can be replaced with bandanas or very short hair to help kids see the stages of hair loss that comes with cancer treatments. These dolls help both boys and girls understand the changes moms face when dealing with chemotherapy, and can smooth the adjustment to different appearances.

“The most noticeable change in a woman’s appearance is hair loss,” says Lillie Shockney, a registered nurse and administrative director of the Breast Center at the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Canter. “In our society, hair loss often symbolizes having cancer.”

Remind kids that the cancer treatments are temporary

When you’re talking to children about cancer, tell them that the side effects of chemotherapy are temporary. Hair grows back, weight comes back, and energy levels will return! Cancer and chemotherapy treatments aren’t permanent conditions.

Tell your kids that if parents have cancer, children won’t automatically get cancer

According to Everyone’s Guide to Cancer Therapy, most cancers don’t run in families. The type of cancer a parent has isn’t the type that a child will get. When you’re talking to kids about cancer, reassure them that they won’t get sick by being near Mom or Dad.

If you have any questions or thoughts on how to talk to children about cancer, please comment below.

Visit for more information about Kim Goebel and the Partners for a Cure Foundation.


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