- Question from mari: My 12-year-old daughter worries that she will have breast cancer because I had it. How do I respond?
- Answers - Joan Hermann It's natural for a daughter to worry about that, especially as her breasts are still developing. Mothers need to tell their children that breast cancer in an adolescent is extremely rare. And that certainly there's a chance that anybody, as they get older, will develop the disease. But remember that there are advances being made every day in how breast cancer is treated. Even if a fifteen-year-old might get breast cancer twenty years from now, the treatment will be even better than it is today.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. Girls need to learn how to enjoy their body and feel good about it and not feel threatened by it.
- Joan Hermann The other issue that's a problem for kids is the question of why mommy got cancer to begin with. One of the most universal fears that children have is that they've caused the cancer to happen by something they did or something they didn't do, or one day they yelled, "I hate you, Mommy," or something like that. It's applicable to all ages. Younger children engage in magical thinking. They think that everything that happens in the world has something to do with them. So, this is a universal issue that parents should confront up front and not wait for the child to ask. After they've gone through naming the disease, what the treatment will be, and that Mom is going to the hospital, the next thing will be that the doctor has told us that nobody caused mommy to get sick; that's not possible.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. Don't wait and wait and wait for your child's first question. If you're not talking—you're only waiting —your child is picking up the cue that you are uncomfortable talking about this and that may inhibit their question asking.
- Joan Hermann There's something called the 'family protection syndrome' and everybody understands this—everybody in a family of people who love one another, everybody tries to protect each other from bad things. So, if a child is not asking any questions, that doesn't mean that they are not worried to bits inside.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. A message we are hearing over and over again is help your children understand what to expect and give them permission to express their questions, uncomfortable feelings, and even anger.
- Joan Hermann It's a natural human response to be angry that your whole world is upside down. Children need to be able to be mad that this has happened. Even if that's irrational, they need permission to be angry. That comes into play in situations when Mom can't pick them up at soccer practice and can't go to the school play. If the child is not expressing a reaction to that, the mother needs to reach for it by saying, "I know how upset this makes you—you may even be mad at me. This is nothing we have any control over right now. My first job for you is to get better, and as soon as I'm physically able, I'll start acting like your mommy again. But right now the treatment is really wearing me down."
On Wednesday, August 16, 2000, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Kids and Mom's Breast Cancer. Joan Hermann, L.S.W. and moderator Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about talking to your kids about breast cancer.
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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