Deciding when and how to explain a breast cancer diagnosis to children is not an easy feat. If the children are older and developed, they may notice or sense irregular behavior in the person with breast cancer. Forming a dialogue between parent and child establishes transparency and support for one another. Children look up to their parents, so honesty about internal and visible physical changes to the body will prepare the child and may lower fear towards the condition.
There is no set of rules on how to tell a child their parent has breast cancer, but parents know their children best. If the child is young, they may not know or understand the term "cancer". It has been said that using the word cancer when telling children of a diagnosis may lead to less of a negative connotation towards the condition itself and its effect on their parent. Creating time together to read through children’s books about breast cancer can also provide an explanation for the child and quality time together. Children 6-8 years of age may have heard about cancer. However, as a parent it may be helpful to determine what they know and cover any misconception or confusion over what cancer really means.
Speaking to a counselor or group therapy may help young people process their thoughts, feelings and any doubts about what their parent has been going through. Informing the children’s school or teacher about a cancer diagnosis helps to provide support and understanding in case of changes in the child's behavior. When communicating with the school, be clear about what the child already knows and what they do not need to know, especially if they are a toddler or preschooler.
Teenagers and adults may want to hear more information about their parent’s breast cancer diagnosis. Although older children may understand the condition, they may not be ready to talk about it. Encouraging teens and adults to express their feelings with friends or other family members provides a second support system. A writing journal or forms of art can also be a way to convey emotion. Other children may want to take their parent to appointments or visit the hospital. It is important for older children to hear from their parent that they should continue to plan for the future whether that means applying to college, buying a home or starting a family of their own. Teenage and adult children may want to help their parent complete tasks. Helping a parent may let the child work through their own feelings, gain insight on what their loved one is going through and makes them feel useful. A healthcare provider can also arrange families with information about risk of developing breast cancer.
“Talking with Children about Breast Cancer.” Breast Cancer Now, 16 Sept. 2019, breastcancernow.org/information-support/facing-breast-cancer/talking-children-about-breast-cancer.
What's Happening to Mom? Susan G. Komen ww5.komen.org/uploadedFiles/_Komen/Content/About_Breast_Cancer/Tools_and_Resources/Fact_Sheets_and_Breast_Self_Awareness_Cards/What's%20Happening%20to%20the%20Mom.pdf.