A Q&A with Kimberly Allen, MS, CCLS, hematology-oncology child life specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia
Q: I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. Should I tell my children?
A: Many people are unsure about telling their children they have cancer. But strong evidence supports the fact that being honest with kids helps them through the ordeal. Children quickly sense when something is wrong even if they’re not told, so it’s often impossible to hide that someone in the family is ill. Honesty is usually the best policy.
Q: What are the dangers of not telling them?
A: Secrecy generally makes things worse. If you don’t talk to your children, they may hear you or other adults discussing the illness. Young children often worry that they are to blame for problems in a family. Discussing the issue lets you reassure them that it’s not their fault.
Q: What and how should I tell them?
A: This depends on how old your children are. Don’t give young children too many details, as they can cope better with small amounts of information. Simply say that you are sick with a disease called cancer and will need treatment. Make sure they understand that they can’t catch cancer from you. Whereas older children may want to be more involved and may already have some misconceptions about cancer that you’ll need to correct. Then explain how cancer and treatment may affect their daily lives. If you’re unable to have this conversation, ask a trusted family member or friend to do it for you.
Q: What about follow-up conversations?
A: Let your children know that you’re available if they have questions about your health. Give them general updates on your health status as your treatment progresses. Depending on your children’s ages, journaling, drawing and playing out feelings also can help them cope.
We can help your family cope
The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has one of the area’s largest child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology programs, with specialists who can help with anxiety and depression. For an appointment, call 706-721-9331.