Talking to children about cancer


Children have got to be the hardest thing to put into this equation. I think if he wasn’t around it would be so much easier because you’re brain goes to what’s going to happen? Am I going to see him go to Grade 12, and am I going to be able to be there for him? And it’s really, really difficult. How much information do you tell him? And one thing that I really realize is that you now go from a 5-year-old to an 11-year-old and their brain changes and their ability to comprehend completely change and they sense. My son and I are incredibly close and they sense it, if you don’t say something they go to a really dark place and they think the worst and stuff like that. They don’t need to know everything. He didn’t know a lot of the places where it was he just knew that the cancer had come back. He maybe... we were lucky because when he was younger mom beat cancer, right... so mom’s going to be okay. So he doesn’t quite get the fact that I probably won’t be okay. And that’s okay. He doesn’t need to know that. I sat him down after I got all the information and that’s again, I didn’t want to tell him before I had all the information because I wanted to be able to give him a true picture of what was going to happen. And you keep it in honest minimal detail. I guess would be the best... I can say it and he just understood that the cancer had come back. Now this is going to mean that we have to go back through chemo and radiation and all that sort of stuff.
On the metastatic journey or the advanced breast cancer journey, how I discussed it with my son was to say that it had come back and that we have to go after it. If you’re listening to this as you’ve already probably been told is that metastatic isn’t going to go away. You’re going to have cancer in you at some degree and you’re never going to be cancer free or be classified as cancer free. So I was honest with my son and just sort of said, I used the term that it was like a chronic condition that we’re always going to have to be watching it and that I’ll always be going through different treatments and have treatments and it’ll vary how I respond to the treatments in terms of...if the cancer comes back or when the cancer comes. Not if the cancer comes back but if the cancer starts to grow again and different things like that. That seemed to provide him with some ability to get his head around it and not to put him in a scary spot. Some kids they’re the social workers at most places will have programs for children. My son never wanted to go to one but I always tried to find some time where it was just him and I. I found snuggling with him in his bed where we’re not looking eye contact, then he could ask some questions and some hard questions like am I, "Are you going to die?" And things like that and you’re going to get that question depending on the age or if you don’t get the question you should bring up the question because it’s going to be in their heads. That’s a very difficult question and you should probably think through it because it’s a hard one to deal with.

Interviewer: Can you tell me how you responded to that question?

I felt it was very important and what I had read is that you have to be as honest as possible because then if you’re not then they feel that you’ve lied to them and there’s a lot of anger afterwards if you do die. That’s what I had read so what I chose to do with him is I introduced it slowly, let him get used to the idea and then I would snuggle and then just ask him about different things or say different things and try to bring him out. And then when he did ask that question I told him that I didn’t know. I said, I was honest and I said "This one I don’t know if we can, if mommy will ever be, I will never be cancer free and I don’t know what this is going to mean. But all I can tell you is that I’m going to fight my hardest to do everything I possibly can to beat this." Because that’s something that he could understand and relate to. But if you want to be brutally honest is to live as long as you can but I think at 11 he doesn’t need to hear that. I think to make sure that I’m around to beat this is okay. In his idea of beating it is just make sure the cancer doesn’t come back. And then, they can only, I was just giving him little bits of information at a time in terms of what it meant and things like that.

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