- Question from ICCHY: How much exactly should children know about the cancer a parent has? What age groups should or are capable of knowing what?
- Answers - Joan Hermann I would say from about ages 3 and older, children need to be told very basic information—information like the name of the cancer (in this case, breast cancer); what will happen in terms of treatment; what Mom will experience; will it be chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation; and what side effects these treatments are going to have.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. And also will she need to be in the hospital. It's also important to let your child know if you are going to start looking different.
- Joan Hermann I think that the major issue for children is their own need for safety and security, so how will the family's life change as a result of what's happening? If Mom's in the hospital, who will pick the children up from school, who will cook dinner—basic things like that, so the child is reassured that mom is still taking care of them. The basic message is that you will be taken care of, no matter what happens. And that's universal for any age child.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. When Mom is in the hospital, I think it's also really important for the child to know that Mom is being taken care of in the hospital. Many children think that bad things might happen to her in the hospital, because when she comes home she may look sick. She may go in looking well and come out looking sick.
- Joan Hermann It's also a very good idea for somebody to let the child visit the hospital to see what their mom is experiencing. I think little kids can go into hospitals safely if they are prepared and the parent does not look terribly, terribly sick. Two and three-year-olds can visit the hospital if the mother has the energy for it and, of course, any child who goes into the hospital needs to be prepared for what they will see. So, nurses are often very helpful with that. What's that IV pole? Why does mommy have a Band-Aid on? Those kinds of questions.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. There are so many simple things that you need to think about them seeing, like the IV pole and that stuff.
- Joan Hermann But the message, again, is that the people in the hospital are taking care of Mom.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Kids and Mom's Breast Cancer featured Joan Hermann, L.S.W. and moderator Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about talking to your kids about breast cancer.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in August 2000.
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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