- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking: Treatment
- Creative ways to explain cancer
Creative ways to explain cancer
Sometimes talking isn’t the best way to communicate with children and teenagers. A range of creative methods can help explain cancer treatment and explore feelings. You can adapt these suggestions for different ages and interests.
Offer them a tour
Before treatment starts, give your children a tour of the treatment centre or hospital ward. Check with staff whether this can be arranged. This experience will give your children a clearer idea about what happens during treatment. They can picture where the person with cancer will be and meet the medical team. Older children are often particularly interested in how the treatment technology works.
Draw a flow chart or timeline to show the different stages of the treatment plan. At different times throughout treatment, you can look at the chart together to see where you are up to and how far you have come.
Keep a journal
Keeping a personal journal or diary can help older primary schoolchildren and teenagers to express their feelings. Some may prefer to write a short story that is based on the cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Make up stories and play games
Try explaining cancer treatment using stories they know, or by playing games. You could make up a story about the battle of the good cells and the bad cells, using surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and other treatments as the weapons. You could build a Lego game to show how, in the battle to defeat the bad cells, some good cells get hurt too (causing side effects). Kids who love video games will get the idea about chemotherapy zapping the bad cells. Once you get your kids started, their imagination will do the rest.
Say it with music
Listening to different types of music together or getting kids to make up their own music could help with their understanding of the different treatments (e.g. using percussion to represent destroying the cancer cells, or listening to a lullaby to represent falling asleep before having an operation).
Draw out feelings
Use art as a way to talk about cancer treatment. Ask your kids to draw what they think cancer is or how different treatments work. Their artwork can show a lot about what they understand or are feeling.
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.