How to Talk to Kids About Cancer

There's no easy way to talk about cancer. Betsy Brown Braun, author of "Just Tell Me What to Say," provides tips on how to explain a sensitive subject.


[MUSIC] Unfortunately, your children will hear about cancer, and you will need to be able to talk to them about it, because hopefully not you, but somebody in their circle is going to have cancer, whether it's a relative or a friend's parent or relative or someone that they know. And it's important for you to have at the ready something to say to your kids. The one thing I can tell you for sure is that it is critical that you not keep it a secret. Children do much better when they know than when they don't know. They will hear things that you say. They'll hear whispered conversations. They'll hear low voices on the phone. And they'll know that something is wrong but they won't be sure what it is. So, I encourage you always to tell your children what's going on. WIth the younger kids we say, "Uncle Harry has a problem with his body." You notice I'm not saying Uncle Harry is sick because to a young child sick means you have a cold or a sore throat or diarrhea and those things people get better very quickly. The cancer is not such a quick recovery. So we say Uncle Harry has a problem with his body, and the doctors are trying their very best to fix it. He has a lump in his body, something that's not supposed to be there, and the doctors are going to remove it, and hopefully he'll be much better. To the older child. We'll say, yeah, unfortunately Uncle Harry has a problem with his body. He has cancer, and the doctors are doing everything they can to fix it. Cancer is when your cells which are different than your regular cells grow very quickly, and they form a tumor. So the doctor is trying to reduce the size of the tumor and make the cancer go away. And the way they do that is with surgery to remove the lump, and then there is something called chemotherapy and radiation. We explain to kids that the, the medication and the radiation sometimes have big side effects, like your hair falls out, or you're very tired, or you're very weak. But that's a good thing because that means that the medicine is doing it's job it's very powerful and it makes sure all the bad stuff gets out of your body. You know for younger kids and for older kids, it's important that you let them know that cancer is not contagious, they cant catch cancer. Not in the same way you can catch a cold or the flu, but they won't catch cancer. If your child asks you a question about cancer and you don't know how to answer it, it really is okay to your child, you know, I don't know the answer of that question. I'm gonna ask the doctors or I'm gonna look it up and I'm going to be sure to get back to you about it because I wonder the same thing. And then be sure you get back to them. Finally, cancer is such a sad, scary thing. You wanna be aware of the tone in your household. Children need to know that their lives will go on, maybe a little different, but their lives will go on, they'll still go to school, they'll still have a bedtime, and you gotta try as hard as you can not to have the affect. The tone in your family to be too down. We wanna make sure kids know that life does goes on.

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