Explaining a breast cancer diagnosis to your kids can be a sensitive and challenging task. It’s important to approach the conversation with honesty, reassurance, and age-appropriate information.
Breast cancer is certainly not a diagnosis anyone wants to hear.
The good news is that breakthroughs in treatment have made it entirely possible to have an incredibly full life, even while coping with the disease.
The bad news is that breast cancer still claims thousands and thousands of women’s lives every year, and we’re seeing more incidences of it than ever before.
Getting a breast cancer diagnosis can be a huge shock. You deal with a wide range of emotions: anger, fear, sadness, and depression. And if you have children, figuring out the best way to tell them about your situation can add significant pressure to a difficult time. You want them to be aware of what you’re going through, but you certainly don’t want to terrify them. It’s tricky, but there are some methods that seem to work.
Explaining a Breast Cancer Diagnosis to Your Kids
Here are some steps to help you navigate this difficult conversation:
- Prepare yourself: Take some time to process your own emotions and gather accurate information about breast cancer. Understand the stage of your diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis. This will help you answer any questions your children may have.
- Choose the right time and place: Find a calm and comfortable setting where you won’t be interrupted. Make sure you have enough time to discuss the diagnosis and address any concerns your children may have.
- Be honest and use simple language: Explain to your children that you have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Use age-appropriate language that they can understand. Avoid using medical jargon and keep the explanation clear and concise.
- Share basic information about breast cancer: Provide a simple explanation of what breast cancer is. You can say something like, “Breast cancer is a disease that affects the cells in the breast. Sometimes, these cells can grow in an unhealthy way and make you sick. But doctors have treatments to help make you better.”
- Emphasize that it’s not their fault: Children may blame themselves or feel responsible for the illness. Reassure them that breast cancer is not their fault and that nothing they did or said caused it.
- Reassure them about your well-being: Let your children know that you are getting the necessary medical help and treatment. Explain that doctors and other healthcare professionals are working hard to make you better.
- Encourage questions and emotions: Allow your children to ask questions and express their feelings. Provide a safe space for them to share their concerns and fears. Be patient and understanding as they process the information.
- Tailor the information to their age: Younger children may not fully grasp the concept of cancer, while older children may want more detailed information. Adapt your explanations to their developmental level and be prepared to provide additional information if needed.
- Maintain a routine and normalcy: Cancer can disrupt family life, but try to maintain a sense of normalcy and routine for your children. It can provide a sense of stability and security during uncertain times.
- Seek additional support if needed: If you find it challenging to have this conversation or notice that your children are struggling to cope, consider seeking professional support. Child psychologists, social workers, or support groups can offer guidance and help your children navigate their emotions.
Remember that every family and child is different, so tailor the conversation to their specific needs. Reassure your children of your love, care, and support throughout the treatment process.
Other Methods of Explaining Breast Cancer to a Child
The direct approach.
Sometimes simple and direct is the way to go. You can sit your kids down and tell them you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. Don’t just leave it at that, though. Make sure you explain exactly what it is, and that there are different types. Reassure them that you’ll be receiving fantastic care and that the doctors will make sure everything is okay. They may ask you if you’re going to die. You don’t want to lie to them. But tell them that treatments are constantly being discovered, and you’re lucky to be in a position to be able to get all the possible treatments. This won’t work for every child, so you’ll have to determine if your little one will appreciate this approach.
The direct approach can be an effective way to communicate a breast cancer diagnosis to your kids.
Here’s a more detailed expansion on the direct approach:
- Choose an appropriate time and place: Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can have a focused conversation with your children. Make sure there are no distractions or time constraints.
- Start with a clear statement: Begin the conversation by directly telling your children that you have been diagnosed with breast cancer. For example, you can say, “There’s something important I need to tell you. I went to the doctor, and they found out that I have breast cancer.”
- Use simple and age-appropriate language: Explain what breast cancer is in a way that your children can understand. Avoid using complicated medical terms and break down the information into simpler terms. You can say something like, “Cancer is when some cells in the body start to grow in a way that is not healthy. In my case, it’s happening in my breast.”
- Provide reassurance and information: Let your children know that you are receiving excellent medical care and that doctors are working hard to make you better. Emphasize that there are different types of breast cancer and that each one may require different treatments. Assure them that you are fortunate to have access to all the possible treatments available.
- Address concerns about mortality: It’s common for children to worry about the possibility of losing a parent. If your children ask if you’re going to die, be honest but provide reassurance. Explain that while cancer is a serious illness, treatments are constantly improving, and many people are able to recover from it. Emphasize the importance of early detection and the medical advancements that offer hope for a positive outcome.
- Encourage questions and emotions: Let your children know that it’s okay to ask questions and express their feelings. Reassure them that their emotions are valid, and you are there to support and listen to them. Be patient and understanding as they process the information and share their concerns.
- Highlight your support system: Inform your children about the people who will be helping you throughout the journey, such as doctors, nurses, and other family members. Assure them that they won’t be alone and that there will be a network of people available to offer support and care for them as well.
- Tailor the conversation to their age: Consider the age and maturity level of your children when explaining the diagnosis. Younger children may require simpler explanations, while older children may benefit from more detailed information. Adapt your approach to ensure it is age-appropriate and understandable for each child.
- Reiterate your love and commitment: Emphasize your love and commitment to your children. Let them know that even though you are facing a health challenge, your love for them remains unchanged. Assure them that you will do everything possible to take care of yourself and that they can always come to you with their concerns and feelings.
Remember, the direct approach may not be suitable for every child. Some children may respond better to a more gentle or gradual introduction to the topic. Trust your instincts as a parent and adapt your communication style based on your child’s individual needs and temperament.
Hear them out.
Remember, you have a support system to deal with your feelings around the diagnosis, but at this early stage, you are your children’s support system. It’s all a bit scary, so let your kids fully express their fears around the situation. They may be confused, angry, intense, or tearful. Any and all of these are normal reactions. Make sure that they know that, and know that they can express whatever they need to express to you and that you’re there to hear it all.
Hearing your children out and creating a safe space for them to express their feelings is crucial when explaining a breast cancer diagnosis.
Here’s an expansion on the importance of listening to your children and providing emotional support:
- Be present and attentive: Give your children your full attention when they express their feelings or concerns. Put aside distractions and actively listen to what they have to say. Show that you are engaged by maintaining eye contact and providing verbal and non-verbal cues that you are there for them.
- Validate their emotions: Let your children know that their feelings are valid and normal. Assure them that it’s okay to feel scared, confused, angry, or sad about the situation. Acknowledge their emotions by saying things like, “I understand that this news can be overwhelming and it’s natural to feel upset. It’s important to talk about it and share our feelings.”
- Encourage open communication: Create an environment where your children feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions openly. Let them know that you are always available to listen and support them. Encourage them to ask questions, share their concerns, or simply talk about how they’re feeling.
- Be patient and empathetic: Recognize that your children may need time to process the information and may not immediately know how to articulate their emotions. Be patient with them and avoid rushing the conversation. Show empathy by trying to understand their perspective and offering words of comfort and reassurance.
- Don’t dismiss or downplay their emotions: It’s important not to minimize or dismiss your children’s emotions, even if their concerns seem trivial to you. Remember that their experiences and understanding of the situation are different from yours. Avoid phrases like, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine,” as it may invalidate their feelings. Instead, focus on empathetic responses such as, “I can understand why you feel scared, and it’s okay to feel that way. We’re in this together, and we’ll face it as a family.”
- Seek professional support if needed: If you notice that your children are struggling to cope with their emotions or if their reactions seem prolonged or intense, consider seeking professional support. Child psychologists, therapists, or counselors can provide additional guidance and help your children process their emotions in a healthy manner.
- Provide reassurance and stability: Amidst the uncertainty of a breast cancer diagnosis, assure your children that they are loved and cared for. Reiterate your commitment to their well-being and emphasize that you will continue to be there for them throughout the treatment process. Maintain daily routines and rituals as much as possible to provide stability and a sense of normalcy.
Remember that everyone processes emotions differently, and your children may have unique ways of expressing their feelings. By being a supportive and understanding listener, you can create an environment where your children feel heard and supported during this challenging time.
Try to be a role model.
You’re certain to have difficult days during the treatment, but let your love for your children keep you positive and upbeat. However you choose to tell them about it, they’ll deal with it the same way they see you dealing with it. Get whatever sort of support you need, from your significant other and professionals so that your kids don’t have to see their mother struggling. At the same time, prepare them for what may be ahead. Let them know that you’ll have bad days, but it’s all part of getting better.
Being a positive role model for your children during your breast cancer treatment is crucial.
Here’s an expansion on the importance of being a source of strength and optimism while preparing your children for the challenges ahead:
- Maintain a positive attitude: While it’s normal to have difficult days during the treatment, try to maintain a positive outlook as much as possible. Your children will look to you as a role model, and seeing you approach your diagnosis and treatment with resilience and optimism can provide them with reassurance and inspiration.
- Be open about your emotions: It’s important to be authentic and acknowledge your own emotions in front of your children. Let them see that it’s okay to feel a range of emotions and that it’s healthy to express them. However, try to strike a balance by not overwhelming them with your own struggles. Find ways to process your emotions privately or with a support network so that your children don’t feel burdened or frightened by your emotional state.
- Seek support from loved ones and professionals: Build a support system around you that includes your significant other, family members, friends, and healthcare professionals. Share your concerns and challenges with them, allowing your children to witness a collaborative approach to managing difficulties. By showing that you have a strong support system, you can alleviate some of your children’s worries and demonstrate the importance of seeking help when needed.
- Prepare your children for potential challenges: While maintaining a positive attitude, it’s essential to be honest with your children about the potential challenges you may face during your treatment. Let them know that there may be days when you feel tired, unwell, or experience side effects from medications. Reassure them that these experiences are part of the process of getting better and that you have a healthcare team to support you.
- Emphasize your commitment to getting better: Highlight your determination to overcome the challenges and reassure your children that your primary goal is to get better. Discuss the various treatment options available and explain that doctors and healthcare professionals are working hard to provide the best care and ensure your recovery.
- Encourage open communication: Create an environment where your children feel comfortable discussing their concerns and fears. Encourage them to share their thoughts, ask questions, and express their emotions. By fostering open communication, you can address their worries directly and provide the support and reassurance they need.
- Show self-care and self-compassion: Demonstrate the importance of self-care by taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Prioritize activities that bring you joy, engage in hobbies, practice relaxation techniques, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. By practicing self-care, you show your children the importance of taking care of oneself during challenging times.
- Celebrate milestones and victories: Share your progress and celebrate milestones with your children. Let them be part of the victories along the way, whether it’s completing a round of treatment, receiving positive test results, or reaching personal goals. This helps instill hope and reinforces the message that progress is being made.
By being a positive role model and taking care of yourself, you can support your children while navigating breast cancer treatment. Your resilience and optimism will help them feel more secure and provide them with valuable life lessons about facing challenges with strength and determination.
Think outside the box.
If the direct approach doesn’t feel right for your children, there are other ways to break the news. There’s a whole line of children’s books with breast cancer themes. There’s also a set of dolls, called Kimmie Cares, that can help your children understand the changes you’ll face during treatment. The dolls have removable hair or very short hair, so they’ll be less confused if you have side effects from chemotherapy. They even come with chemo hats or little bandanas.
Thinking outside the box when explaining a breast cancer diagnosis to your children can involve creative approaches and resources that can help them better understand and cope with the situation.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Utilize children’s books: As you mentioned, there are children’s books available that address breast cancer themes. These books are specifically designed to explain the diagnosis and treatment in a child-friendly manner. Reading these books together can provide a structured way to introduce the topic and facilitate discussion. Look for age-appropriate books that align with your children’s understanding and reading level.
- Explore specialized dolls: Dolls like Kimmie Cares, which are specifically designed to help children understand the changes associated with breast cancer treatment, can be a useful tool. These dolls have removable hair or short hair, allowing children to see and interact with physical changes that may occur during treatment. They can also provide a tangible way for children to express their emotions and process their experiences.
- Use visual aids: Visual aids can help simplify complex medical concepts and make them more accessible to children. Consider using diagrams, pictures, or illustrations to explain aspects of breast cancer, such as the location of the breast and how cancer cells can grow. Visual aids can be particularly helpful for younger children who may struggle to grasp abstract ideas.
- Engage in creative activities: Encourage your children to express their emotions and experiences through creative outlets such as drawing, painting, or writing. Provide them with art supplies and encourage them to create artwork or stories that reflect their thoughts and feelings about your diagnosis and treatment. This can serve as a form of self-expression and therapeutic release.
- Seek support from child-focused organizations: Reach out to organizations that specialize in supporting children and families dealing with cancer. They may have resources, programs, or support groups specifically tailored to children. These organizations can provide additional guidance, age-appropriate materials, and opportunities for your children to connect with others facing similar experiences.
- Involve a healthcare professional: Consider involving a child life specialist or a pediatric psychologist who can provide expert guidance in communicating the diagnosis to your children. These professionals have experience in supporting children through difficult situations and can provide tailored strategies and resources to help your children understand and cope with the changes.
Remember, each child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Be open to exploring different approaches and resources until you find what resonates best with your children. The key is finding ways to facilitate understanding, provide support, and create an open communication and emotional expression environment.
Let them know life goes on.
You’ve got all the breast cancer information, but they only have you. Make sure they know all these side effects are temporary, and that you’ll soon be back to normal. They want to know they’ll still have the same relationship with you, and you can reassure them that no matter what happens, you’ll always be their mom. Make sure they know all these side effects are temporary, and that you’ll soon be back to normal. They want to know they’ll still have the same relationship with you, and you can reassure them that no matter what happens, you’ll always be their mom.
Assuring your children that life goes on and that your bond as a parent will remain strong is essential when explaining a breast cancer diagnosis.
Here’s an expansion on this important aspect:
- Emphasize that side effects are temporary: Let your children know that the side effects associated with breast cancer treatment are temporary and part of the healing process. Explain that although you may experience changes in your appearance, energy levels, or daily routines, these are temporary and will improve over time.
- Reassure them about the future: Provide reassurance that once the treatment is complete, you will gradually return to your normal activities and routines. Let them know that you are taking steps to get better and that there is a plan in place to address the breast cancer. This can help alleviate their worries about the long-term impact of the diagnosis.
- Reinforce the stability of your relationship: Assure your children that regardless of the changes you may go through during treatment, your relationship with them remains unchanged. Remind them that you will always be their mom and that your love for them is unwavering. Reinforce the importance of the bond you share and express your commitment to being there for them throughout the journey.
- Maintain regular family activities: To reinforce the notion that life goes on, try to maintain regular family activities and traditions as much as possible. Engaging in familiar routines can provide a sense of stability and normalcy for your children. It can also serve as a reminder that while things may be different for a period, many aspects of family life remain consistent.
- Involve them in your progress: Keep your children informed about your treatment progress and milestones along the way. Share positive news, such as completing a round of treatment or receiving encouraging test results. Involve them in the celebrations and make them feel included in the journey towards recovery. This can help them see tangible evidence of progress and reinforce the idea that you are actively working towards getting better.
- Encourage open dialogue: Create a safe and open space for your children to express their concerns, fears, or questions. Encourage them to share their thoughts and emotions throughout the process. By actively listening and addressing their concerns, you can foster a sense of trust and open communication. Reassure them that their feelings and opinions are valued and that you are there to support and guide them.
Remember, consistency, communication, and reassurance are key in helping your children understand that although life may have temporary changes, your love and commitment as their mom remain constant. By addressing their concerns and reinforcing the stability of your relationship, you can provide them with the necessary support and comfort during this challenging time.
If you have breast cancer symptoms, please see your doctor.