Talking to Your Children about a Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
When a young mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, her first thoughts usually turn to her children. “Will I be here to raise my family?” Once that question is answered by the oncology team taking care of her (and remember 85% of women diagnosed today are long term survivors like me), she then ponders the issue of how to explain to her young children and teens that she has been diagnosed.
Even a 2 year old will sense there is something wrong. So don’t take the approach that it is better to keep it a secret from your children. Though they need an explanation that is in keeping with their age group, they still need some sense of understanding what is happening and why. You need to always maintain trust with your child. Not telling them runs a high probability they will hear about it from someone else, then you have trust issues that can last forever.
If you have a toddler, the child needs to understand that you have a booboo in your breast that the doctor needs to take out. There may be times you feel sad about it and will cry. There may be days you are tired. If you are to undergo chemo, make them aware that you are getting medicines that make your hair for all and that their hair will not be effected. Tell them that there will be days you don’t feel like playing outside with them and will have another family member or friend watching them. Remind them this is temporary too. Also tell them that they had nothing to do with you getting breast cancer.
Tweens are challenging group. Girls are just going into puberty and their breasts are developing. Fear that they will end up wearing your bra is a real concern. Fear of losing you is even bigger. Be honest in explaining the treatment plan that lies ahead and try to maintain as much stability as you can for them. Make their teachers aware in school of your situation too.
Teenagers really get their world rocked when their mother is diagnosed. You may need them to step up to the plate in a major way and pitch in with meal preparation, child care and such. Be sure to reward them for this and make sure there is still time in their personal schedules to be a teen. Some prior patients have noted that their teens act out more during this time. They are merely trying to cope with emotional upheaval. Counseling is something to consider too, for them and for you as a family, especially if your treatment plan is anticipated to be along one.
Breast cancer is a disease that effects the family. No doubt about it. Include them to the degree appropriate in the discussions about your prognosis and progress as you take this journey to healing as a family.