Children often ask direct questions about cancer treatment and side effects. The suggestions below may help prepare you for some of the likely questions.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to explain that you will need to find out. You can ask your treatment team, call Cancer Council 13 11 20, or read more about treatments and side effects.
Answering key questions
Consider our examples of answers below and think about how you might respond if your child asks you these questions about cancer treatment.
Q. Is it going to hurt?
Many children – and adults – worry about cancer pain. Cancer doesn’t always cause pain, and if it does, the pain can be relieved or reduced.
A. “Cancer doesn’t always hurt, but if I have pain, the doctors will give me medicine to help make it go away.”
Q. Why do you look so sick when the doctors are meant to be fixing you?
Often people who have cancer look perfectly well when diagnosed. It’s only when they have treatment and the side effects kick in that they start to look sick. This can be hard to understand.
A. “The doctors are using strong medicine to kill the cancer, but the medicine affects good cells as well as cancer cells. Some days I will feel and look sick, but this doesn’t mean the cancer is getting worse. I will start to feel better when treatment finishes.”
Q. Will your hair come back?
Hair loss can be upsetting for you and your children, so it can help if the family knows what to expect and what you might do about it.
A. “The doctor says I may lose my hair because of the chemotherapy. It will come back but probably will look a bit different, especially at first. I can wear wigs, scarves or hats until it grows back.”
Q. Does radiotherapy make you radioactive?
A common fear among children is that they can become radioactive by touching you after radiotherapy. With most types of radiotherapy, this is not possible. Your doctor will tell you if you need to take any precautions.
A. “Radiotherapy is like an x-ray. It doesn’t hurt. It’s safe to touch me.”
Q. Why do you need to rest so much?
Children often can’t comprehend the exhaustion you may feel after treatment. They may resent you not doing as much with them.
A. “The operation/treatment I’m having has made me tired and I need to rest a lot so my body can recover and get better. Why don’t we make a plan for where we’ll go or what we’ll do on a day I have more energy? Perhaps today we can do something quiet together like watch a movie.”