- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking about the diagnosis
- Involving others
There are several ways to ensure kids hear a consistent message from people who are involved in their lives.
Tell key adults
Share the diagnosis with other people who talk with your kids (grandparents, friends, the nanny, babysitters) and tell them what you plan to say to your children so that you all communicate the same message.
Talk to other people who have cancer
Often the best support and ideas come from people who’ve already been there. You’ll realise you’re not alone and you can ask them how they handled things (see Support services).
Ask a professional
Get some tips from the oncology nurse or social worker, psychologist or other health professionals at the hospital.
Many parents or carers wonder if they should tell the school. If things are unsettled at home, school can be a place where kids can be themselves with their friends and carry on life as normal.
When the school is aware of the situation at home, staff will be more understanding of behaviour changes and can provide support. In fact, school staff are often the first to notice shifts in a child’s behaviour that may indicate distress. A cancer diagnosis in the family can also affect academic performance, so the student may be entitled to special provisions, which can be particularly important in the final years of high school.
Ways to involve the school include:
- Tell the principal, the school counsellor and your child’s teachers. They may know of other people in the school community affected by cancer and this may influence your child’s understanding of the disease (e.g. a parent or a child at the school may have died of cancer).Let relevant staff know what your child has been told about the cancer and what they understand cancer to mean, so staff can respond consistently.
- Ask the school to let you know of any changes in behaviour or academic performance. Ideally, a particular staff member, such as the class teacher, student wellbeing coordinator or year adviser, can provide a regular point of contact with the student. However, request that teachers don’t probe – some well-meaning members of staff might misinterpret your kid’s behaviour and unintentionally make them feel uncomfortable (e.g. the teacher may ask if they’re okay when they’re happily sitting on their own).
- If you feel concerned about how your child is coping, ask the principal whether your child could see the school counsellor.
- Sometimes other children can be thoughtless in their comments. Check with the teachers and your child to see how other children are reacting so that negative behaviour can be addressed appropriately.
- Ask a parent of one of your child’s friends to help you keep track of school notes, excursions, homework and other events. When life is disrupted at home, children may feel doubly hurt if they miss out on something at school because a note goes missing.
- Ask the principal whether the school could organise for services that support students to visit the school. For primary schoolchildren, Camp Quality has developed an educational puppet show to help young students learn about cancer in a safe, age-appropriate way. For more details, call 1300 662 267. For older children, CanTeen has a cancer awareness program called When Cancer Comes Along. To find out more, contact CanTeen on 1800 234 007.
- Explore what special provisions might be available for exams or admission into university.
For more ideas about how your child’s school can help, see Cancer in the School Community: A guide for staff members, which explains how school staff can provide support when a student, parent or member has 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.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
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Practical advice and support during and after treatment