Living with advanced cancer
This section is a starting point for talking to your children if someone they love has cancer that has come back or spread. The issues are complex, emotional and personal, so you may find reading parts of this section difficult. If you want more information or support, talk to hospital staff or contact these services.
Learn more about:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- What do children need to know?
- How children react
- What words should I use?
- Answering key questions about advanced cancer
- How children understand death
- Maintaining family life
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you or a family member has advanced cancer. An important part of supporting children is to ensure that you have support around you too. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you may find some of the following suggestions helpful.
- Ask family and friends for help. Let them know what you need – they will probably be relieved that you can give them something to do.
- Get practical assistance and information from Cancer Council and other organisations to help ease your worries.
- Talk with your GP and consider getting a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or speak with a counsellor. Depression and anxiety are common and they affect how you cope. Effective treatments are available.
- Consider using complementary therapies, such as massage, to manage stress. You could also try the relaxation and meditation exercises in our Finding Calm During Cancer podcast.
- Use programs developed by Canteen, Camp Quality or Redkite. Lifeline and Kids Helpline both provide 24-hour phone counselling.
Podcast: Explaining Cancer to Kids
Prof Jane Turner AM, International Psycho-Oncology Society President Emeritus,The University of Queensland, QLD; Taylor Baker, Consumer; Dr Ben Britton, Principal Clinical and Health Psychologist, Head of Psychology, Hunter New England Mental Health, NSW; Camp Quality; Dr Lisa Cuddeford, Head of Department, WA Paediatric Palliative Care Service, Perth Children’s Hospital, WA; A/Prof Peter Downie, Head, Paediatric Haematology–Oncology and Director, Children’s Cancer Centre, Monash Children’s Hospital, VIC; Dr Sarah Ellis, Clinical Psychologist, Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Malia Emberson-Lafoa’i, Consumer; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Jane Gillard, Consumer; Mary McGowan OAM, International Childhood Cancer Advocate, VIC; Annette Polizois, Senior Social Worker, Women, Family and Emergency Care Team, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Rhondda Rytmeister, Clinical Psychologist, HeadWayHealth (formerly Snr Clinical Psychologist, The Cancer Centre for Children, Westmead, NSW); Nadine Street, Head of Social Work and Social Welfare, HNE Mental Health Service, NSW; Warren Summers, Online Counsellor, Canteen, NSW.
We would also like to thank the health professionals, consumers, organisations and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title, and we are grateful to the parents and young people whose real-life stories have added to the richness and relevance of this book.
We thank and acknowledge Dr Paula K. Rauch, MD, Founder and Director, Marjorie E. Korff PACT (Parenting At a Challenging Time) Program and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, whose research and writing on helping parents talk to their children about cancer was used as source material for this book and has been adapted in several sections: pages 8–11, How children understand cancer; page 22, Answering key questions: Are you going to die?; page 26, Involving the school or preschool; pages 30–31, Hospital visits; and pages 36–37, Encouraging family time. We also thank the American Cancer Society for permission to use and adapt material on pages 8-11 from its book Cancer in Our Family: Helping children cope with a parent’s illness (2013); Macmillan Cancer Support for permission to use its book Talking to Children and Teenagers When an Adult Has Cancer (2013) as a source of information; Jessica Watt, Oncology Social Worker, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, for her contribution on page 20, When another child has cancer; and Diane McGeachy, Hobart Counselling Centre, for contributing material for page 37, Spending one-on-one time.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.