A cancer diagnosis can be scary for anyone, but when the diagnosis is for your child, it can be even scarier for your entire family. Your child, depending on their age and exposure to cancer previously — such as with a grandparent or other family member — they may not understand what cancer is and the impact it can have on their life. As their parent, it can be difficult to decide how to explain the diagnosis and what to expect to your child.
At Alaska Pediatric Oncology, we have experience with diagnosing and treating all sorts of cancer and rare blood disorders in children of all ages. We can help you explain the diagnosis to your child.
1. Be honest.
Any parent already knows that kids are intuitive and can read your expressions. They know when you are not being truthful or are hiding things. You can take your time to answer questions, but be certain to answer truthfully. Explain things simply, honestly, and as positively as you can.
When your child begins treatment and you have been untruthful, they will know that you were not honest and trust will be broken. Remember that children are resilient and some things that you may explain are your child’s first exposure to the subject and it is not necessarily associated with fear.
2. Explain things in terms they can understand.
When your pediatric oncologist tells you about your child’s diagnosis, they will explain it to you in medical terms as well as layman’s terms so that you can understand. You should attempt to do the same thing for your child. You can tell them the name of their cancer and what body part it affects and then you can explain it the way Ms. Frizzle would to the children on The Magic School Bus!
3. Control your emotions and speak positively.
Children respond to your reactions, so your children will be looking at you when you explain the situation. It is okay to be upset about your child’s diagnosis, but it is important to be fearful and tearful behind the scenes. Take some time to think about what you will say to your child and practice it. If you are emotional, get it out before you talk to your child so that you can be calm and positive for your child’s sake.
4. Let them know what to expect.
The greatest source of fear for cancer patients of any age is the fear of the unknown. Let your child know what to expect. If you don’t know everything, that’s okay. Tell them what you do and let them know that everything else, you two can ask the doctor together. You can tell them about upcoming appointments with their pediatric oncologist, scans, and treatments. Most importantly, let them know you will be right by their side every step of the way — you are on this journey together.
5. Enlist help from resources.
Don’t worry. You are not the first parent struggling with how to tell your child about their cancer in a way they can understand. There are plenty of resources to help! Try some of the children’s books that can help prepare your child for what is to come in a positive way.
- The Famous Hat by Kate Gaynor explains leukemia, treatment, chemotherapy, and hospital stay. This book helps children cope with difficult treatments and helps them find the best in everything.
- The Puddle Jumper’s Guide to Kicking Cancer by Elizabeth Billups tells the hopeful story of a young girl with cancer. It gives an insightful look at cancer and cancer treatments and what it is really like to fight cancer.
- Amazing Annabelle: A Story for Kids Fighting Cancer by Dyan Fox is the story of a six-year-old with cancer and how she uses her imagination to get through the hardest parts of cancer treatment.
Support groups for both children and families are also another good resource, whether in person or online. Support groups are full of other families in similar situations and can offer insight and hope to your family, as well as offer friends who can relate with you and your child.
6. Answer all of their questions.
Think about how many questions you had about your child’s cancer diagnosis, and you already have somewhat of an understanding of what cancer is and treatment options. Children are inquisitive by nature and will have plenty of questions. Be patient and allow your child the time to ask questions and answer them to the best of your ability. As previously mentioned, be honest and answer in terms they can understand. If you don’t know the answers, let them know that and you can begin a list to ask at your next oncology appointment.
At Alaska Pediatric Oncology, Alaska’s children are our only patients. We are well versed in explaining childhood cancer diagnosis and treatment to children and their families. For all of your pediatric oncology and hematology needs, contact us for your consultation.