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Pictured is a mother talking to her daughter about cancer

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How to tell your kids you have cancer

A steady routine helps kids feel and do their best. But, when you’re diagnosed with cancer, everything changes. Are you wondering how cancer treatment will impact your ability to be there for your kids and others counting on you? Keep reading to learn how you can share your cancer diagnosis, help your kids understand cancer and explain how it could affect their lives during your treatment. 

Sharing your cancer diagnosis

As a parent, sharing your cancer diagnosis could be one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have. You may have also considered not telling your kids or family. Ultimately, it’s your choice to share when and how to share your cancer diagnosis. However, kids who know about an illness often cope better than children who don’t. While you don’t need to follow a script, you can prepare for the conversation to help them understand your diagnosis.

Prepare for the talk

Sharing your diagnosis can help your kids better understand cancer and what they can expect during your cancer treatment. Make time to think about the conversation and prepare to answer their questions. Don’t feel bad if you can’t answer all of their questions right away. You will likely have regular conversations with your kids and other loved ones throughout your cancer treatment.

What is cancer?   

Most kids have heard about cancer and how serious it can be. Depending on their age, other children may not know the whole picture.  Cancer is complicated and there are many types of cancer. Simplify your answer as much as possible using terms and examples kids will understand. 

It’s not their fault

Kids often blame themselves, yet a cancer diagnosis isn’t their fault. Explain that cancer can happen to anyone, and there’s nothing your kids could have done to prevent your cancer diagnosis. Be honest about your situation. When you explain what cancer is, consider offering reassurance to ease their minds. For example, Cancer treatments have consistently improved over time.

What causes cancer?

Your kids may ask how you got cancer. Some ideas for putting the details into simple terms include:

  • Sometimes our cells get confused.
  • Cells are the tiny living things in our body that help us function.
  • Cells send signals to each other to prevent making more cells than we need.
  • Cancer happens when your cells lose their ability to send and receive signals.
  • Chemotherapy helps your body get rid of the bad cells. 
  • Chemotherapy side effects mean your body is working hard to destroy cancer cells.

Is cancer contagious?

Fortunately, cancer isn’t contagious. The fear that cancer can spread to others is understandable, especially during an ongoing pandemic that has changed our lives. You can reassure your kids and ease their minds by explaining that cancer doesn’t spread from person to person.

How kids can help during cancer treatment

In your busy home, there are plenty of chores to go around. Some kids may ask how they can help during cancer treatment. With school, organized sports and other activities, your kids are also busy. Give them an opportunity to share how they’d like to help and start with tasks you know they can manage.

Talking about your new look

Cancer and cancer treatment can change your appearance and activity level. During chemotherapy cancer treatment, you may experience side effects, such as fatigue, hair loss and nausea. Tell your kids about the potential side effects and cancer symptoms before you start treatment to ease their concerns and set expectations.

Supporting kids during your cancer treatment

Everyone experiences different emotions after learning a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Children often express anger, sadness, confusion, fear and other difficult feelings. Other kids may misbehave, act out for attention or lose their appetite as they cope with your cancer diagnosis. Your kids may benefit from professional mental health care while navigating difficult emotions.

Explore cancer resources

Visit Allina Health Cancer Institute’s free online cancer resources to easily find answers to common questions and learn what to expect during your cancer treatment. Your cancer care team can also answer any questions you or your kids may have from your diagnosis through treatment and every step of the way.

Cancer treatment options

Cancer is complicated, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Allina Health Cancer Institute can navigate your care close to home, so you have more time for what matters most. You’ll get specialized cancer care from a team of experts who know what's important to you. Find an Allina Health Cancer Institute location near you.

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