Talking to children about your cancer

To help understand the diagnosis, children need age-appropriate explanations. If you’ve explained cancer and its treatment before, it might be easier to start the discussion. However, you might find it harder to talk about the cancer spreading and being difficult to treat. The conversation may be easier if you think about the questions children may ask and work out a response beforehand.

Once children know the cancer is advanced, they will need to be given some idea of the prognosis.

Learn more about talking to:

For more on this, call Cancer Council 13 11 20, see Talking to kids about cancer, or listen to our podcast on Explaining Cancer to Kids.

Young children

Even if they are young, your children will probably suspect that something is wrong. They may notice changes at home, such as your distress or an increase in visitors. Assure children that the disease is no-one’s fault.

Children may think they, or their behaviour, caused the cancer. They might also fear the same thing happening to them or someone else they know.

Children will want to know in advance when you will be staying in hospital or needing rest at home. They will want to know that there will always be someone to care for them.

If you are a sole parent, finding someone to look after your children may be harder. It may help to talk to a social worker about what’s available in your local area.

Quick tips:

  • Listen and be alert to their feelings, this gives you an idea of what they can handle.
  • Communicate feelings as well as facts.
  • Give simple, honest answers, and clarify any confusion.
  • Explain what will happen next and give children realistic hope, e.g. that the family can still enjoy time together.
  • Don’t make promises you may be unable to keep.
  • Reassure them that they didn’t cause the cancer.
  • Try to keep family routines and boundaries as normal as possible.
  • Provide extra physical and verbal expressions of love. Children may become clingy, angry or withdrawn – all are natural reactions.

Teenage children

Teenagers react in different ways, ranging from withdrawal to offers of help and assurances of love. Like younger children, teenagers can feel abandoned as the family concentrates on the sick person.

Instead of focusing on themselves, teenagers may be required to deal with the needs of the family. Because of these pressures, there may be outbursts over trivial things.

Teenage children may feel upset by how unfair the situation seems and also react to feelings that they are not really aware of, or cannot acknowledge, like anger, guilt or grief.

Quick tips:

  • Encourage them to talk about their feelings, but understand they may find it easier to confide in friends, teachers or other trusted people.
  • Help them find ways to express their feelings in different ways, e.g. listening to music, playing sports, writing in a journal.
  • Negotiate role changes in the family.
  • Keep their routine as normal as possible – school, homework, activities and social outings.
  • Provide resources for learning more about cancer and getting support and counselling, such as Canteen’s website.

Adult children

Adult children may feel overwhelmed when they find out you have advanced cancer. They can become aware of their own desire to have a parent around forever. They may feel guilty because they have to juggle other responsibilities (e.g. a job or caring for children of their own) or they live far away.

You might feel you have to, or want to, carry on as the head of the family, reassuring everyone that things are the same as always. Having to rely on your adult children may make you feel uncomfortable, particularly if you need help with feeding or bathing. However, your adult children may see it as their opportunity to look after you and show their love.

Quick tips:

  • Provide information about your condition to your grown-up children to help them cope with their feelings.
  • Involve them in decision-making about treatment or activities you want to continue. They may have valuable input.
  • Discuss ways your children might be able to help you, while still managing their other responsibilities.
  • Organise or make time to spend with your children so you can create meaningful memories together.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on living with advanced cancer.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit:


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit:

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit:

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in December 2016
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