The conversation you never want to have with spouse, let alone your children and family members, is the one where you explain that you have breast cancer. The diagnosis is hard enough for you to accept, and talking about it with loved ones seeing their expressions, and calming their fears seems insurmountable when you’re facing an uncertain future.
Talking to Adults
You may want to consider holding off telling your children until the adults in the family are told. You’ll get better practice fielding questions and dealing with emotional outpourings with adults before you take on children and their fears.
You can anticipate knowledgeable questions from adults such as: “What stage is the cancer? What will be the course of treatment? What can I help you with? Will you lose your hair?”
Before you talk with adults, you may want to have as much information as possible in order to keep your cool and not lose patience with question after question.
Talking to Toddlers & School-Age Children
Very young children will understand that you are ill if you’re suddenly not as energetic as you once were. Using words they understand like “boo boo” could make them think your cancer is something that can be fixed by a simple kiss or a character bandage. Explain to them that your your “boo boo” is inside your body and is getting fixed by medicine.
If your treatment is causing you to face chemo hair loss, consider playing a game of dress-up with colorful hats and scarves. Children love to play pirates and this is a wonderful way to help both of you cope with your illness.
Talking to Middle School Children
Older kids know what it means to be sick. They know what it’s like to stay home for a few days on the couch from the flu or a cold. Most of the illness they’ve dealt with, however, has been something they’ve picked up from another child. Make certain they understand that your cancer isn’t contagious. Explain to them that there will be days when you may be tired or ill from your treatments and that you may not have the energy you’re used to having. Children at this age may be okay with you losing your hair. They can understand that just as an animal sheds its hair and skin, an adult’s hair will grow back.
Children at this age want to know the hard question of whether or not you are going to die. They may think they’ve done something wrong and your illness is their fault. They may not want to leave your side for fear of losing you. Children sometimes regress and start to wet the bed or act out because there is something disrupting their world, and they cannot control it. Try to keep their routine as normal as possible. Make certain they have transportation to and from extracurricular activities and that they have time for their interests.
Talking to Teenagers
Teens usually have a better grasp on what cancer is and how it can affect the family. Many teens know other friends who have had a family member go through cancer treatment. They’ll know the difference between radiation and chemotherapy and for anything they don’t know, they’ll research online.
Some teens may respond with anger and fear, which at first may seem very selfish. They can accuse you of disrupting their life and plans. Others will jump in and try to become the mother of the family. Explain that while you may need their help more with some of the household duties, that they must maintain their social life and keep up their school work.
Turn chemo negativity in to something fun for you and your family. Flip chemo hair loss on its head!
Talking to children and family members about your diagnosis is not an easy task, but you may find support through social organizations in your area as well as local church support groups. If you know of any cancer survivors in your family or friendship circles, ask for advice on how they broke the news and maybe consider having one of them at your side when it’s time for the talk with loved ones.