During diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care you should continue to talk openly with your child about the cancer. By talking to your child about his/her illness, you are setting up patterns of open communication that allow your child to feel your support and strength.
Children are naturally curious and will probably have many questions about their illness and treatment. Your child will expect you to respond to these questions so, it is important that you are prepared to answer them. Your child might ask the following questions:
Why Me? - Children will wonder why they got cancer and feel strongly that their cancer was a result of something they did. Reassure your child that the cancer is not a result of his/her actions. Cancer develops in all kinds of people and there is no set of rules that determines who gets cancer and who does not.
Will I Get Well? - Children often know someone with cancer or know someone who has died from cancer. As a result, many children fear that they will not get well. Thus, it is important to explain to your child that cancer is a serious disease but with medicine, cancer can often be treated if not cured.
What Will Happen to Me? - Often times, children who have been diagnosed with cancer will be scared of what will happen to them. It is important that you explain to your child the type of cancer he/she has and the treatments he/she will be undergoing. You should also discuss treatments and possible side effects. By being up front and honest, you eliminate a lot of your child's fears. Your child's doctor, nurse or social worker will be able to help you answer questions.
What Should I Tell People? - Children with cancer are often concerned how people will react to them. Classmates and friends might be particularly interested in what is happening. Encourage your child to talk honestly and openly about his/her cancer and treatments. Also, help your child understand that not all people know about cancer and they may act differently or give the child incorrect information.
Can I Still Do All the Same Things? - The answer to this is dependent on the type of cancer your child has and the type of treatment he/she receives. It is likely that your child will need some restrictions during the illness and treatment but explain why these limitations are important to his/her health.
Ideas for Reassuring Your Child During Diagnosis and Treatment:
- Remind your child that neither the disease nor the treatment is a punishment.
- Be honest and open about the type of cancer your child has and the treatments that will be received.
- Don't be afraid to tell your child that you do not know the answer to all questions. Reassure your child that you will try to discover the answer.
- Feel free to ask your child how he/she feels and what concerns he/she has. Keeping the lines of communication open lets your child know that you are concerned.
- Let your child know that it is fine to cry and feel sad. This provides an outlet for emotions.
- Let your child have some control over his/her treatment as long as it does not interfere.
- Encourage your child to talk about his/her feelings. Talking with your child can help reduce the stress the child is feeling.
- Recognize that your child is likely to have bad days as well as good.
- Remember that your child's doctor, nurse and social worker can answer questions and give support to your child and family.
- Despite all that is occurring at this time, your child is still the same person, with the same emotional needs as any growing child.