In CR’s winter 2009 issue, oncology social worker Hester Hill Schnipper wrote about talking to kids about a parent’s cancer diagnosis. We asked readers to tell us how they talked to their own children about cancer. Below are a few excerpts from some of the responses we received.
My girls were ages 10 and 13 when I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. … I would always tell them the truth and tell them as soon as I knew what was going on. I did shelter them from the worst of the pain I experienced and the greatest fears I held in my heart. … I think they took their cues from me: If I was calm, they were calm. And together we endured. Today, they are 18 and 21.
Bowling Green, Ky.
My kids were 2 and 10, so the youngest only knew mommy was not feeling well and could not play all the time. I told [my eldest], Chris, that I had been diagnosed with [breast cancer] but that I would fight to be there for him and the family. I explained prior to starting my chemo that I might have some adverse effects and that I would have my “bad” days. ... I also explained that this was no one’s fault and that he could speak to me, his dad, or his close family members about what he felt at any time.
New York City
When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I was not expected to survive three months. … My wife told my eldest son, who was 21 at the time, and he passed it on to my daughter who was then 18. ... We never told my youngest son who was 15 … this I lived to regret.
Five years later when I started to get into fundraising and advocacy work, I was given plenty of media coverage. He was working at the time and his boss came into the workplace reading the local newspaper. … His boss said to him point-blank, “I didn’t know your dad had cancer and was told he may only live three months!” ... [My youngest son] was in a dire state and we had to reassure him that I was in remission and things were looking good.
I would tell anyone to make sure they explain to their children (in a sensitive way) what cancer is … put them in the picture.
When I decided to tell my children about my diagnosis and prognosis, I felt they should know everything. … My son, who was 13, handled it a lot of days by ignoring it. … My daughter became the “little mother” figure. … She wanted to know every detail. … Looking back, [I think that] maybe my son especially should have gone to see a therapist. At the time, I thought he was handling it wonderfully, but … he held a lot of his feelings in. He said, “Mom, you were so positive. I never wanted you to know I was scared, angry, confused and just wanted to make it all go away.” … Their father and I always told them they could talk with us about [my cancer] diagnosis anytime, but I think we overlooked that they maybe needed to express themselves to others about this.
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