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Talking about cancer to your children by Oncovia

Why is it important to talk to children about cancer?

Children are particularly sensitive and notice everything that happens at home. They are often the first to notice when something is wrong, but are too scared to talk about their fears and anxieties.

They are often afraid of what is to come, of the unknown, and most of all, when they feel that their parents are hiding something from them. Do not hesitate to get in touch with a Psychologist at the hospital, they are perfectly qualified to receive family consultations and will be able to find the right words to explain the situation to your children.

According to experts, you should inform your children as soon as possible. They have the right to know and they are stronger than you think! They are not afraid of words and prefer that you speak directly, as they have trouble understanding metaphors (for example, speaking to them about death by saying “he has gone away” will not help them understand the loss). If they are not aware then they can become destabilized, which can sometimes trigger over-exaggerated reactions and behaviour.  By speaking about the illness, you will protect your children from any false illusions they may have. You do not go into details, but what you say should be the truth. You can talk about some kind of combat, for example, cancer is often associated with crabs. You can say that each chemotherapy session kills the crabs.

Children also tend to feel guilty, but if you talk to them openly about the situation then this kind of feeling can be avoided. Trust instead of Distrust! Never make any fake promises to avoid disappoint and false hope later on.

How to put your illness into “Words”?

Never be afraid to talk about cancer with your children. Let them know that cancer is not a contagious disease and that no one is responsible for this situation. It is essential that your child understands that the Doctors are doing everything they can to cure you. Use simple words and create an atmosphere where your child feels comfortable asking questions.

A child can sometimes feel ashamed of their mum or dad due to their change in appearance: wig, head scarf, visible scar or your exhaustion. It is good to speak to the teachers so that they can openly speak about the illness as well.

If you have several kids, the first step should be to gather them together and discuss your cancer at the same time. Afterwards, it is recommended to speak to each of them individually to make sure they understood. Each child should be able to express his or her fears and anxieties freely!

Remember that each child reacts differently. The most common reactions are denial, rejection, aggressiveness and withdrawal. Talk with your child and feel free to express your own fears. However, do not force your child to talk if they do not want to, and most importantly, share as many privileged moments as possible, without cancer!