- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking about the diagnosis
- When another child has cancer
When another child has cancer
Your child may have a friend or cousin who has been diagnosed with cancer. While children may know someone with cancer, usually it’s an adult in their life who is affected (e.g. a grandparent or teacher). It can be confusing and frightening for a child to learn that children can have cancer too.
Causes of cancer
Let your child know that childhood cancers are not lifestyle-related (e.g. caused by sun exposure or smoking), nor does a child get cancer because of naughty behaviour or a minor accident like a bump on the head. There’s nothing anyone did to cause the cancer.
It’s not contagious
Children need to feel safe around the child with cancer. Tell them that cancer can’t be passed on to other people. If the sick child is in isolation, this is to protect the child from infection, not to protect everyone else from the cancer.
Most children get better
Like adults, children may worry that cancer means their friend will die. Reassure children that although cancer is a serious, life-threatening disease, the overall survival rate for children is now more than 80%. This can vary depending on the diagnosis, but most children will survive cancer.
Explain that things will change for the friend. They may feel too tired to play or may be away from school a lot. They may have physical changes (e.g. hair loss, wheelchair). Encourage your child to focus on what hasn’t changed – their friend’s personality and their friendship.
Visit the hospital
Take your child to visit their friend in hospital if you can. It is confusing for your child if the person with cancer disappears from their life after diagnosis. They may imagine the worst. Let them know it’s natural to wonder how to act and what to say, and that the more time they spend with their friend, the more they’ll relax.
Keep in touch
Help your child maintain the relationship with their friend. They may not see each other as often and might not interact in the same way, but there are other ways to keep in touch. For younger children, this could mean making a get well card or a decoration for the hospital room. Older children may prefer to communicate by phone, email or social media.
Let your child know that it’s okay to have lots of different emotions and that you have them too. They need to feel that they can approach you when they want to discuss what they’re going through. It’s chance to discuss ways of coping with difficult emotions.
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
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment