Skip to main content

Cancer care

Skip section navigation

Cancer support

Cancer support groups

It helps to know you're not alone. We encourage you and your family to gain support not only from our cancer experts, but also from others going through similar experiences.

Located in:

Type of cancer:

Talking with children about cancer


A how-to guide for moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, all adults

If you need to tell a child about your cancer diagnosis, ask for Simple Talk for Tough Times by Marcia Carlson, social worker at Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® – Unity Hospital and the Mercy Cancer Center. The book is available at no cost.

A cancer diagnosis shakes up your life and the lives of your family in ways you might never expect. The diagnosis looms like the "elephant in the room" – an age-old expression used to describe something big that everyone is aware of but no one wants to talk about.

Simple Talk for Tough Times can help you talk with the children in your life about a cancer diagnosis and help them cope with the enormous changes cancer often brings.

Table of contents and free downloads

The cover of Simple Talk for Tough Times: Talking with Children about Cancer shows an elephant walking with a mouse who is holding a large yellow flower.

In addition to general advice and suggestions, Simple Talk for Tough Times explores each phase of childhood development. Each section offers age-appropriate ideas for what to say, what to do and what to observe when talking with children about cancer.

Chapter 1: Breaking the news
Chapter 2: Facing uncertainties
Chapter 3: Special circumstances
Chapter 4: Ideas and resources

Go to free Adobe Reader download site.

Award-winning author

The author of of Simple Talk for Tough Times: Talking with Children about Cancer smiles as she accepts an award.

For years, Marcia Carlson, a social worker at Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® – Unity Hospital and the Mercy Cancer Center, had trouble finding resources to help parents with cancer talk to their children about it. That is why she wrote Simple Talk for Tough Times.

In 2011, the Minnesota Hospital Association recognized Carlson's efforts by naming her Caregiver of the Year.

Cancer resource centers

Cancer resource centers at these locations are open to anyone who needs to gain knowledge and experience support.

A woman reads about cancer while sitting in a rocking chair next to a fireplace at the Mercy Hospital Cancer Resource center

Virginia Piper Cancer Institute - Abbott Northwestern Hospital
Cancer Resource Center

Piper Building, fourth floor, 800 East 28th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Phone: 612-863-3150
Hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Harbor Room in Cambridge Medical Center

701 South Dellwood Street, Cambridge, Minnesota
Phone: 763-688-8415
Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Mercy Hospital Cancer Resource Center

4050 Coon Rapids Boulevard, Coon Rapids, Minnesota
Phone: 763-236-6060
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

United Hospital
The Sharon K. Willbrandt Resource Library

333 North Smith Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102
Phone: 651-241-8328

Unity Hospital Cancer Support Services

480 Osborne Road NE, Fridley, Minnesota
Phone: 763-236-5607
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Staff members and volunteers can help you find information on cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. They also can guide you to support services at the hospital and in your community.

Materials can be checked out so that you can read them at home.

Hospital support services

Every Allina Health hospital offers these support services. Your doctor or nurse can tell you how to access them.

Nutrition therapy

Registered dietitians can assess your food needs and help you set goals to improve eating and manage weight.

Social services

Social workers can help patients and their families find support for emotional or financial issues, and community resources.

Spiritual care

Chaplains encourage each person's journey of faith and hope. Sacraments and rituals of many faith traditions are available.

Financial services

Patient account representatives can answer questions about hospital bills or insurance coverage. They also can help you access Allina Health Financial Assistance Services.

Cancer rehabilitation

A physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor and a nurse practitioner specializing in cancer care will assess how cancer is affecting your ability to do normal daily activities, work or exercise. After cancer treatment, they will work with you to restore those abilities.

Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute offers cancer rehabilitation services in partnership with Virginia Piper Cancer Institute®.

Genetic counseling


Shari Baldinger, genetic counselor and manager of genetic counseling services for Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, explains who a genetic counselor is and how genetic counseling may help families.

Video transcript: Genetic counseling at Virginia Piper Cancer Institute

Cancer genetic counseling: How it can help you and your family

What is cancer genetic counseling?
Is cancer genetic counseling right for you?
What is genetic testing?
How do you take a genetic test?
How is this service billed?

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Cancer Genetic Counseling: How It Can Help You and Your Family, can-ahc-14960
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts, including Shari Baldinger, MS, certified genetic counselor, Abbott Northwestern Hospital
First Published: 08/17/2009
Last Reviewed: 09/26/2013

American Cancer Society services

We work with the American Cancer Society to bring their services to you and your family. For more about American Cancer Society services, call 1-800-227-2345 (1-866-228-4327 for TTY for the hearing impaired) or visit cancer.org.

Look Good... Feel Better

A licensed cosmetologist teaches people with cancer ways to enhance their appearance and self-image during chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Allina Health locations in Minnesota include Coon Rapids, Fridley, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Shakopee. Allina Health also offers the service in River Falls, Wisconsin.

For more about Look Good... Feel Better nationwide, go to lookgoodfeelbetter.org.

woman with cancer reassures husband

Cancer Survivor Wellness Program - St. Paul
Cancer Survivor Wellness Program - Minneapolis

TheCancer Survivor Wellness Program is a series of classes is for people whose lives have been affected by cancer. You will have the opportunity to learn new ways to enhance and support your health throughout your cancer treatment and beyond.

Hope Lodge

American Cancer Society Hope Lodges offer cancer patients and their families a free, temporary place to stay when their best hope for effective treatment may be in another city. To find a Hope Lodge and to learn more about a specific facility, please visit that location's page at cancer.org, or call the American Cancer Society toll free anytime, day or night, at 1-800-ACS-2345.

Nurse coordinators: Cancer support every step of the way

Melanie Hartman and Jill May, RN.

Melanie Hartman with her cancer nurse coordinator, Jill May, RN.

In August 2011, Melanie Hartman was told she had neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare form of cancer with no known cure. Just 40 years old at the time, Hartman said her world stopped upon hearing the diagnosis.

"When you are told you have cancer, you don't even know what questions to ask," she said. "But the longer you live with the diagnosis, the more information you want."

Since her diagnosis, Hartman has learned as much as she can about her cancer and treatment options. Fortunately, she is not doing it alone.

Her cancer nurse coordinator serves as a constant source of information, support and strength.

"I tell patients their cancer diagnosis is like being thrown on a roller coaster without a seat belt. I am their seat belt. I am there to keep them in the car, on the track and moving forward," said Jill May, RN, Hartman's nurse coordinator.

Providing support

In addition to providing shoulders to lean on, cancer nurse coordinators help inform patients about their options, schedule appointments, provide access to resources within the community and coordinate patients' care.

"I'm very fortunate in terms of all the care I have received through this process," Hartman said. "When you go through this, it's nice to know that someone has your back. Jill will call me out of the blue just to check in and see how I am doing."

In the right place

The first time the two met, May was wearing the zebra-patterned awareness ribbon that represents Hartman's rare form of cancer. Hartman took that as a sign that she was on the right track.

"When I saw her, I knew I was in the right place," Hartman said. "I have never felt like a number. In my world, I'm not a number. I am a mother, a wife and a businessperson. It's nice to be validated."

May said helping people like Hartman navigate their treatment is what she was meant to do. "It can be overwhelming, but every day is a day of survivorship. I want my patients to understand that I am here for them."