Talk to children about diagnosis?


Question from Tabi: I've just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have a 15, 13, and a 4-year-old. How do I tell them? What do I tell them?
Answers - Marisa Weiss, M.D. You are a busy woman and mother! Each of your children is of a different age and maturity and is likely to need different types of information. It's going to be important to spend some time with each of your children individually. In that setting, get the discussion going and try to be as open and relaxed as you can, because this will invite your child to express him/herself more freely.

In general, the best approach is to answer their questions directly, and after you've provided an answer, stop and listen to the response. With a lot of listening, you can really do your best job at figuring out what your child needs and what to say next. Keeping things as normal as possible around the house is good whenever you can. Don't whisper because that worries your children. Know that children often blame themselves for what happens to Mom. This is particularly true of your older children. So it's really important to say that this happened and it's nobody's fault.

It's good to bring your children with you to a doctor's visit if they express interest, so they can see rather than imagine what you are dealing with. Just as it's reassuring to you to have good doctors and nurses on your team, it is also very reassuring for your children. We have a conference transcript on Breastcancer.org that deals with this tough challenge. Children really are resilient and they will absolutely take your lead how to manage this.

This is true about any part of life. Your kids are always watching you to see how you handle various situations. That's how they learn how to react to good things and difficult things. That doesn't mean you have to be an actress when you are feeling down. It's OK to cry openly, as long as the children see you move through it. And when you get to the other side, let them know it's OK that you're sad, and that's why you were crying, but that now you're better and they helped you feel better. If you can give your children a job to do, like helping you make dinner or getting the newspaper or folding the laundry or reading you the newspaper or massaging your feet, you are giving them a very important opportunity to help you get better, and that is really important.

Editor's Note: See more information on talking to your kids about your diagnosis in Breastcancer.org's section Talking to Your Family and Friends About Breast Cancer.

On Wednesday, May 21, 2003, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Taking Care of Yourself. Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about exercise and nutrition, and other things you can do to nurture your body, along with strategies for finding emotional support, boosting your mood, and feeling good again.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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