Talking to Your Children About Your Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

Preparing What to Say

Although this isn't going to be easy, there are some ways to go about it that will make it go smoother. First, try to imagine how you are going to tell them and how you think the conversation might go. This can help you to plan ahead and try to anticipate what you will say and how your children might react. Although your discussion will be geared to how old your children are, try to get to the important things first, as many children have short attention spans.
As you plan out your explanation, try to remember to keep it fairly simple. The full concept of cancer may be difficult for a child to understand, so keep it in terms that they are familiar with. For instance, you may need to explain that cancer isn't something you "catch," like a cold or the flu
Also, children tend to see the world only as it relates to them. It is not uncommon for children to think that they may have done or said something to have caused your cancer. Just be aware of this and try to address it when you talk to them -- that this is not something that is their fault.
Try to help your child understand what it means to have cancer. For many children, when they hear the word "cancer," they automatically think "death." Try to incorporate into your discussion that you have a plan to treat the cancer. This can help to reassure them that there is a plan in place and you are not just giving up. Expressing hope to your child gives them reassurance that just because you have cancer it doesn't mean you are going to die.
Let your child know that it is okay for them to talk to you about how they are feeling. They may think that now that they are in the loop, they have to only be strong for you. But the fact is that your child will also be walking beside you in this journey, which means he or she will also have times of being angry, fearful, stressed, and sad. Allowing your child to feel comfortable in talking with you can help give them the reassurance that it is safe for them to come talk to you.
If you know some of the more detailed aspects of your treatment, you may consider mentioning this as well. Some of these things can include whether you will need to spend a lot of time at the hospital, whether your physical appearance may change (such as losing your hair), and whether you may need to be away from home for long periods of time.
This may very well be the first time your children have felt helpless. But try to let them know that they are an important part of this journey with you. Let them know that you need them and that they can help in several ways, such as by helping around the house, drawing pictures for you, or simply by giving you hugs and kisses.
Some other helpful tips when talking to your children about your ovarian cancer diagnosis include:
  • Use the word "cancer." Avoid using terms like "owie" or "boo-boo," as these may lead to confusion.
  • In some cases, using a doll to help show your children where your cancer is located may help them absorb the news, especially since many children don't know what "ovaries" are.
  • Keep them in the loop, especially if there are times where you can't be there for them. For instance, if you have to miss a soccer game because you are sick, let them know that grandma (or someone else) will be there because the medicine you are taking makes you need to sleep a little more.
  • Don't keep it all gloom and doom. Try to involve your children in positive ways. For example, to be prepared for the possibility of losing your hair, you could have them help you pick out some fun scarves or wigs. This helps them feel involved with spending time with you and also like they are contributing in some way to your recovery.
  • Try to answer any questions your children may have. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" or "I will try to find out."
  • Keep telling your children how much you love them, in every conversation and as often as you possibly can. It can bring them more reassurance and comfort than you may realize.
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