Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Being a Parent With Cancer Part 1: Talking With Children About Cancer

Just thinking about talking with Katelyn about cancer makes my stomach feel like I've swallowed a handful of her Squinkies (If you don't know what those are, be thankful. They bounce and roll into every unreachable nook and cranny in the house.)

My daughter has been aware that I've been sick, but at two years old, she hasn't been capable of comprehending the magnitude, or that all the events this year have been connected. I had hoped that as her brain develops, our continual openness and her attendance at many of my medical appointments will cause a gradual understanding that won't terrify her. After reading some of the below resources, which should be helpful for any parent with cancer, I've come to the conclusion that there still will need to be a difficult conversation down the road.

For a cancer parent with an older child, an immediate decision of how to address the sickness is unavoidable. There are two basic choices: 1) hide the condition or 2) be open. A lot of the authoritative resources suggest being open, but I believe it's a very personal choice. Hopefully I will have been in remission for years before our serious discussion with Katelyn. For a parent just beginning the battle, however, I can't imagine how hard it would be to see your own fear reflected on your child's face.

Because (fingers crossed) I will be in remission when we tell Katelyn, I believe sharing the full truth will be right for us. Although we may fit the profile of Pyscho Parents because of the ice skating lessons, I do believe in exposing her to the realities of life. I'm sure she'll be scared I'll relapse, or that she may develop cancer. Offsetting those fears will be the opportunity to discuss: the importance of appreciating each other; God's role in our lives; and all the other life lessons cancer has taught us this year.

For the rest of her life, Katelyn will wonder about the sister and best friend she should have had. They would have shared clothes (hopefully also not boyfriends). They would have had sleepovers. They would have griped about Ryan and me, and each other (I'm a realist.). They would have been each other's Maid of Honor. Telling Katelyn about Lily will be an additional layer of complexity. I don't know how she will react, but I know we'll have to do it. She's already begun commenting about her friends and cousin having brothers and sisters.

No matter the circumstances or the choices we make as parents with cancer (or another family member with cancer), I do believe there is one common theme: children are more resilient than we often give them credit for. Whether they are privy to all the details or not, they are members of a parent's Cancer Team. Very precious members.

Being a Parent With Cancer Series:


Part 1: Talking With Children About Cancer

Part 2: Parenting During Treatment

Part 3: How Cancer Changes Parenting Style

Helpful Resources

ABC's Good Morning America: Telling Kids About Cancer

American Cancer Society: Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer

CancerCare Booklet: Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer

CancerCare Podcast: Helping Children and Teens Understand When a Parent or Loved One Has Cancer

Caring4Cancer: Talking With Children and Grandchildren About Cancer

Children's Books

Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings, written by by Ellen McVicker and illustrated by Nanci Hersh

When Someone You Love Has Cancer: A Guide to Help Kids Cope (Elf-Help Books for Kids), written by Alaric Lewis and illustrated by R. W. Alley

Mom Has Cancer!, written by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos and illustrated by Marta Fabrega

My Mom Has Cancer, by Shari Lichtenstein, M.S.W.