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Talking to Children About Cancer

Heartland Cancer Information Service, National Cancer Institute

When you have been diagnosed with cancer, it is important not to hide your illness from your children. Even very young children can sense when something is wrong. They realize that you do not feel well and that you are not spending as much time with them as usual. You may look different than you did before treatment and there may be more visitors and phone calls than usual.

Telling your children that you have cancer is better than letting their imaginations suggest the worst. Talking to them about your disease gives them a chance to express their feelings and ask questions. It is okay to say that you do not know all the answers.

Children are likely to feel confused, scared, angry and/or lonely when they learn that a parent has cancer. You can help your children cope with your illness by reassuring them that:

  • They did nothing to cause your illness.
  • People with cancer don't always die from it.
  • Cancer is not contagious.
  • The fact that you have cancer does not mean that they or other people in the family will get it too.
  • It is okay for them to have strong feelings about your illness.
  • There are things they can do to help you and the family while you are sick.
  • They should continue with school and their usual outside activities.
  • If they want, they can talk about your illness with a favorite teacher, coach, and other adult in their life.

For more information on talking to children about cancer, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER and ask for a free copy of "Taking Time: Support for People with Cancer and the People Who Care About Them."

"Ask the CIS" is distributed by the Cancer Information Service (CIS) of the Heartland, which serves Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri & Illinois. The CIS is a program of the National Cancer Institute. Call the CIS toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. local time.



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Last Updated 05/05/2009