- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking about the diagnosis
- If your child is diagnosed
If your child is diagnosed
Families often describe the days and weeks after their child’s cancer diagnosis as overwhelming. Among the many confronting decisions they face is how to talk to the child about the illness.
Although the focus here is children affected by someone else’s diagnosis, much of the advice will still be relevant.
Children with cancer tend to feel more secure when the adults around them are open and honest – hiding the truth to protect a child may just lead to greater anxiety.
Match explanations to your child’s age
How much information you share with your child will depend on their age and maturity. Keep your initial explanations simple and take your cue from your child as to whether they want to know more. The first conversation will be followed by many others, so you will have the opportunity to give more detail as the need arises.
The paediatric oncologist, clinical nurse consultant and social worker at your child’s hospital will be able to provide further guidance and assist you with these discussions. For younger children, some hospitals have child life therapists who teach children strategies to manage their illness and can help you explain the diagnosis and the treatment. If you have an older child with cancer, get in touch with one of the Youth Cancer Services. These are hospital-based services that offer specialised treatment and support to young people aged 15-25. Visit canteen.org.au/youth-cancer for more information.
Remember that your child’s hospital team is there to support the family as well. The social worker can let you know what support services are available, particularly if you need to travel long distances for treatment.
Several organisations have developed resources for parents of children diagnosed with cancer. Visit the Victorian Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service, or Cancer Australia at childrenscancer.canceraustralia.gov.au.
As much as possible, include your child in discussions about their treatment and recovery, and encourage them to ask questions. Older children and teenagers may want to seek out information themselves. You can let them know about reliable, age-appropriate resources such as CanTeen and Redkite.
We let Leo lead the way with what he wanted to know, and over time he wanted to know everything.
Genevieve, mother of four children aged 3, 5, 10 and 14
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.
Coping with cancer?
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Practical advice and support during and after treatment