Talking to Your Children About Your Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

Talking to Children of Various Ages

This may get complicated if you have more than one child. If that is the case, it may be easier to have a separate conversation with each one of them. Children at different ages need to know different things. Also, your description of your disease and treatment will be explained in ways that may vary for a young child versus an adolescent.
 
What and how you tell your children about cancer depends on their age. The goal should be to talk to them at a level they can understand and in a way that they can be prepared. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), all children basically need to know is:
 
  • The name of the cancer, including the part of the body that is affected ("ovarian cancer" in this case)
  • How it will be treated
  • How their own lives will be affected.
 
Your child's age will be crucial in determining how much he or she can understand about your illness, as well as how you think he or she will react. Although it's difficult to predict, each child will react in their own way, depending on things like how much they can understand about cancer and what you can do or say to help reassure and comfort your child.
 
Babies and Toddlers
If you have a baby or toddler (ages 0 to 2 years old), the main ways they may be affected by your cancer are by being separated from you and by changes in their routine. Although there may not be much verbal communication at this point, your child will very much be aware of physical and emotional changes in their environment.
 
For children this age, try to focus on meeting their basic physical and emotional needs and minimizing your separation from them as much as you possibly can. Try to stick to your child's routine as much as possible (whether you are there or not) and pour out the extra TLC whenever you can. Remember that your child will be highly sensitive to your moods, so minimizing stress and fears will also reflect in your child's behavior.
 
Preschool and Kindergarten Ages
Preschool- and kindergarten-age children (3 to 5 years old) may be able to understand what it means to be sick, but "cancer" is not likely to be a part of their vocabulary. You can explain to them that you have a type of sickness called cancer and that the doctor is going to give you some medicine to help you feel better. You can also tell them that sometimes the medicine may cause you to get tired or sick, but that other days you will be fine.
 
These little ones tend to think everything is related to them, and may think that they somehow caused your illness because they did something wrong. They may regress in response to your illness by sucking their thumb, using baby talk, or having separation anxiety, among other things.
 
Again, reassurance at this age is crucial. They need to know that your sickness is not their fault and that they will be taken care of. Try to keep a consistent routine and spend some extra time, such as at bedtime, helping to comfort them and ease their fears. Children at this age are starting to identify with feelings -- pay attention to them! Even if they don't directly say what they are feeling, you can watch for clues by paying attention to their speech and play.
 
Try to get them involved in helping. You can ask them to draw you pictures for you to take with you to the hospital. If you have to be gone for a few days, let them know that you will be gone but Daddy (or someone else close to them) will be watching them. Reassure them that you will miss them and that you love them.
 
Elementary to Middle School Children
Most children ages 6 to 12 years old may be able to understand a more detailed explanation of cancer. However, children at these ages may feel that they can catch cancer from another person or may have a generalized view that all people who have cancer will die. With that said, this age group is starting to understand some of the concepts of death and may be able to grasp the fact that people can die.
 
You can explain to them that you have a sickness called cancer that causes lumps to grow inside your body that shouldn't be there. You can also tell them that you will have a surgery to have the lumps taken out, and more treatment to make sure they don't come back. Also, reassure them that lots of people have cancer and they get better, and you expect to get better as well.
 
Children of this age may cry in response to your news. They may also feel worry or fear about what may happen to you. Other reactions may be a regression in behaviors, such as wetting the bed, withdrawing from family and friends, or displaying hostile reactions. Some children, particularly girls, may tend to put on their best behavior to try to hide their worry and sadness.
 
For this age group, try to be as open and honest as you can about your cancer. However, you don't have to go into every detail. These children may really show a desire to help out, so give them some simple tasks they can do, such as making their bed, reading to you, or helping to clean up.
 
Also, encourage them to have fun. Children at this age may feel guilty if they are having fun while you are sick. Help them to know that it's not selfish for them to have fun with their friends.
 
Teenagers 13 to 18 Years Old
Children in this age group have a pretty good understanding of what having cancer is all about. They also understand that this disease can be serious. Because they can understand to a greater extent, it can also cause more conflict. They are at an age where they want to become more independent, but with a mother who has ovarian cancer, they may feel that they need to be taking care of her and taking on more responsibility to help at home. This can result in a frustrated teenager, who may also be battling some feelings of guilt because he or she doesn't necessarily want to be tending to your needs.
 
Teenagers tend to spend a lot more time with friends or members outside the immediate family. Because it may be difficult for your teenager to talk to you, encourage him or her to talk to friends. They may act angry toward you or critical as to how you are handling the situation. They may also be more likely to hide their feelings from you. Some may even be embarrassed by having a sick parent, viewing themselves as "different" from their peers at a time when trying to fit in seems so important.
 
Try to give your teenager the space he or she needs to handle your cancer diagnosis. Encourage them to maintain activities and friendships -- just because you have cancer doesn't mean their life has to come to a screeching halt. Although this may be a difficult age to deal with (with or without cancer), try to remember that your teenager's "normal" behavior may upset you. However, this does not necessarily mean he or she cares any less about you.
 
Traveling With Kids

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