- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking: When cancer won’t go away
- What words should I use?
What words should I use?
If you need to prepare a child for the death of someone they care about, it can be confronting to find the right words to use. See also tips on answering specific questions.
Learn about the words you should use for:
cancer is diagnosed
|“Some people with this sort of cancer get better, but some don’t. I am going to do everything
I can to get better.”
|When end of life is near||“Daddy is very sick now. The doctors say there isn’t any medicine that can make him better. We think that means he is going to die soon. We will try to spend some special quiet time together.”|
|To explain death||“When Grandma died, her body stopped working – she can’t breathe or move or cuddle you anymore. A dead body can’t come back to life. We won’t be able to see Grandma again, but we will always know she loved us.”|
cancer is diagnosed
|“Some people with this sort of cancer get better, but some don’t. I’m trying to do everything I can to treat the cancer, and I will always let you know how I’m feeling.”|
|When end of life is near||“The doctors say that the treatments have stopped working for Dad. There isn’t anything else they can do to treat the cancer. We think that means Dad will die soon. We want to make the most of the time he has left.”|
|To explain death||“I have some very sad news to tell you. Grandma died last night. She can’t breathe or move anymore. Is there anything you’d like to know about how Grandma died?”|
cancer is diagnosed
|“Some people with this sort of cancer recover, but some don’t. I’m planning to do everything I can to keep the cancer under control, and I will always let you know how the treatments are going.”|
|When end of life is near||“The doctors say that the treatments haven’t worked for Dad. There isn’t anything else they can do to treat the cancer. We think that means Dad will die soon. We want to make the most of the time he has left.”|
|To explain death||“I have some very sad news. Grandma died last night … Is there anything you’d like to know about how Grandma died?”|
We were sitting in my sister’s lounge room again when Mum told me Dad was dying. I was like, “Are you serious? This can’t be true.”
From when Dad was first diagnosed with lung cancer to when he died was only four months. It was just so quick. The prognosis kept getting worse – first they said it was 12–18 months, then 3–4 months, then 48 hours.
I wasn’t there when he died. I went to a netball dinner. I didn’t want to be around it – that’s not how I wanted to remember him, it’s not what he was like. Dad told me, “Do what makes you feel comfortable. Do the things you need to do to cope.”
When your parent dies, it’s like a snow globe has fallen off a bench and cracked and snow is going everywhere. But the cracks get mended, maybe with sticky tape, and the snow slowly calms down.
Izzy, 15-year-old whose father had cancer
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
We thank the reviewers of this book: Professor Kate White, Chair of Nursing, The University of Sydney, NSW; Sarah Ellis, Psychologist, Behavioural Sciences Unit, Kids with Cancer Foundation, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Chandra Franken, Program Manager – NSW & ACT, Starlight Children’s Foundation, NSW; John Friedsam, General Manager of Divisions, CanTeen, NSW; Keely Gordon-King, Cancer Counselling Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Stephanie Konings, Research Officer, CanTeen, NSW; Sally and Rosie Morgan, Consumers; Dr Pandora Patterson, General Manager, Research and Youth Cancer Services, Canteen, and Adjunct Associate Professor, Cancer Nursing Research Unit, The University of Sydney, NSW and Visiting Professor, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, UK; Suzanne Rumi, Consumer; Michael Sieders, Primary School Program Manager, Camp Quality.
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, Founding 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, Different views of cancer; page 24, Answering key questions: Are you going to die?; pages 26 -27, Involving the school or preschool; pages 30 -31, Prepare for hospital and treatment centre visits; and page 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, Children’s Hospital Westmead, for her contribution on page 18, When another child has cancer; Diane McGeachy, Hobart Counselling Centre, for contributing material for page 38, Spending one-on-one time; and Dr Ranjana Srivastava, and The Guardian for permission to adapt €œHow do you tell your children you have cancer? €_x009d_, on pages 21 and 47 – full story is available at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/29/how-do-you-tell-your-children-you-have-cancer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.