- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking: Treatment
- Family life during treatment
- Managing emotions
Everyone responds differently to the treatment phase. Anger, crying and withdrawal are some of the possible reactions. These can be protective responses that allow a child or young person time to deal with the information.
If your kids’ reactions seem unusual or extreme, consider getting some professional support. However, some children may hide their feelings because they do not want to add to their parents’ stress. Even if your child’s behaviour doesn’t suggest they are struggling, let them know you appreciate how hard this situation is for them.
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Ways to help them to understand and manage these emotions, include:
- Encourage, but don’t push, kids to identify and name feelings. For younger children, you may need to recognise and identify the emotion for them (e.g. “you look angry” or “you seem really worried”).
- Reassure them that there are no right or wrong feelings. Everyone reacts in their own way.
- Let them know that anger, guilt and sadness are normal feelings. You feel them too and it is okay to talk about them.
- Remind them that they can talk to you anytime about how they’re feeling.
- Discuss ways to manage anxiety and stress.
- Make sure they have plenty of opportunities for physical activity and spending time with friends.
- Provide plenty of physical comfort, such as hugs and cuddles.
- Offer creative ways for children to express their emotions.
- Create everyday opportunities for humour and fun. Let your children know that it is alright to joke and have fun. Laughter can often relieve tension and help everyone relax.
“My husband, Bruce, had a brain tumour and his personality changed because of it. At the dinner table one night, our four-year-old, Emma, announced, ‘I wish Daddy was dead.’
I calmly asked Emma what she meant. She replied, ‘I don’t like the man who’s in my Daddy’s body. I want my real Daddy back.’ I could then explain why Bruce’s behaviour had changed.”
Debra, mother of a four-year-old
The physical and emotional health of a person with cancer will vary during and after treatment. It can sometimes be hard to let your family know how you’re feeling, and they might find it hard to ask.
An emotions thermometer may help. This simple tool allows you to show how you’re feeling every day. You can make one yourself and ask the kids to help. Choose which feelings to include and add a pointer that moves to the different feelings.
Put the emotions thermometer up where everyone can see it, such as on the fridge or noticeboard.
Living with uncertainty
One of the challenges of a cancer diagnosis is dealing with uncertainty.
When first diagnosed, many people want to know what’s going to happen and when it will be over. But living with uncertainty is part of having cancer. There are some questions you will not be able to answer. Learning as much as you can about the cancer may make you feel more in control.
You may find you need to give your family regular updates on the progress of treatment.
Talk about any uncertainty with your children by saying something like, “The doctor is confident that this is the best treatment for me, but if that changes, we’ll let you know, and we may have to look at another type of treatment.”
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.