Telling Your Child You Have Breast Cancer: 5 Things You Need To Know

Hearing the words, “You have breast cancer,” is an overwhelming experience. Telling your children about your diagnosis? That can feel just as overwhelming. That’s why having an idea of what to say – and how to say it – can be extremely helpful when it comes to discussing your breast cancer diagnosis with your kids.

There is no one “right way” to tell your kids you have cancer, but there are some things you can say to help relieve their fears and communicate what this diagnosis means for everyone. Keep the following points in mind as you talk with your children, no matter their age:

  1. Give them the facts. Some people may not want to “burden” their children with the details of their diagnosis, but it’s important for kids of all ages to get good information about what’s happening. Kids are often very aware that something has changed, and what they imagine to be true can often be much more frightening than reality. Give your kids honest and age-appropriate descriptions of what cancer is, how the disease or treatment might affect you physically, and how you may feel emotionally. Allow them to ask questions, and give them an opportunity to talk about their fears and feelings, too.
  2. Let them know it’s not their fault. Children are the centers of their own world, and when something like a cancer diagnosis happens, they may feel as if they caused it to happen or that it is somehow their fault. It’s important to reassure them, again and again, that your having cancer isn’t anyone’s fault, and that nothing they said or did made your cancer happen.
  3. Explain that cancer is not contagious. Children, especially pre-schoolers, may think that cancer is like a cold, and that touching, hugging, or sharing space with a person with cancer might mean they will get cancer, too. Take the time to explain that cancer works differently from many other diseases, and that nobody can “catch” cancer from you.
  4. Reassure them that the family will work together to handle the future. One of the most important things you can do is to explain to kids that even though changes will happen because of your diagnosis, you will work together to make sure everyone’s needs are handled. This is especially important because many children fear they may be forgotten while the focus is on your health. Remind them that their needs will always be taken care of, and talk as a family about the specific ways you will make sure that responsibilities, both new and old, will be met.
  5. Remind them that they are loved. During a stressful time or when a conversation isn’t going the way you hoped, the most powerful words you can say to your child may simply be “I love you.” Make a point to let them know they are loved and reassure them that those feelings won’t change, no matter what.

If you need more information on how to talk to your kids about your cancer diagnosis, the American Cancer Society can help. Learn more online in our section Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer, or find books on cancer for kids in our online bookstore.

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