When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, coming in joint 1st on my ‘Breast Cancer Shit List’ was the worry about:
1. Telling my children (9 year old and 11 year old) that I had breast cancer; and
2. How they would deal with it whilst I went through treatment.
(And let’s not even go to the “what will happen to them if I don’t get through this?” worry.)
However, as with many aspects of a breast cancer journey, the worry can be worse than the reality.
Here are some things to think about:
Telling the children
1. How you tell your children will depend on their age.
2. Honesty is a good policy.
3. There are a lot of picture books which help you to explain the situation to younger children. You may be able to borrow some books from a local Macmillan centre, a local hospice, a cancer centre at your hospital or your local library. I have popped a list of books (some with reviews) at the end of this page.
4. Remember, you know your children best so use your judgment on how, when and what to tell them.
5. Remember that if you don’t tell your children, or don’t want them to know about any aspect of your diagnosis/treatment, then be careful with whom you tell and what you tell them. It would be so easy for a friend to say something to her husband and her children to overhear. And what if that child was a friend of your child? The could easily say something to them. Just be careful.
How to help your children
Remembering that all children are different:
1. Try to keep life and routines as normal as possible given the situation.
2. Tell school about your diagnosis.
3. Ask friends and school mums for help taking kids to and from school, clubs etc
4. Ask friends and school mums to have the children over at weekends, schools holidays and after school when you need a break.
5. Take care of yourself – if you don’t look after yourself then your recovery will be slow and it will ultimately impact on the kids more.
6. Plan some nice family things to do at the end of treatment so you all have something to look forward to together.
7. Respect your children’s feelings about your diagnosis and treatment. My son was adamant that none of his friends should know I had cancer. He also asked me not to come to school unless I was wearing my wig because a scarf or hat made me look cancer-y and he was uncomfortable with that. I was happy to respect his wishes because I wanted to reduce as much of his stress as possible. In the end, he eventually told his friends in his own time and when my hair started to grow through he was happy for me to wear a hat and be seen at school with my post-chemo regrowth.
8. Expect changes in their behaviour. My nine year old refused to go in her bed every night for the duration of my chemo and we had regular tantrums. Something we had never experienced before in the entirety of her nine years.
9. Think of some ways to help younger children deal with the upheavals that treatment can bring. Some lovely ideas that a friend gave me are:
a. For those low immunity days when your child is poorly and you have to keep clear, give them a teddy which is Mummy’s little helper who gives out cuddles when mummy can’t.
b. Have a “hug jar”: every time your child needs a hug but you can’t give one (because you are either at hospital or having to keep a distance due to immunity issues) your child pops a token in the jar. Then when you are around for hugs, he/she can count them up and call in the hugs.
HELPFUL RESOURCES AND MORE INFORMATION
Breast Cancer Now book called “Medikidz explain breast cancer” aimed at telling children aged 8-13 about your breast cancer diagnosis
Fruitfly Collective resources for parents with cancer. This organisation is worth a particular shout out because they provide so much advice for parents with cancer. Some of their resources are free and some you need to pay for. I thoroughly recommend looking at their YouTube channel (free resource) where you will find some really helpful bitesize talks about parenting with cancer. Have a browse around their site – you’ll find loads of videos and book/website recommendations to help you.
The Little C Club – flashcards for children aged 2 years to 10 years to help them understand their parent’s cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Macmillan – advice for talking to children and teenagers about your cancer and their downloadable pdf Macmillan guide . This guide covers how to tell your children that you have cancer and then how to help your children throughout your breast cancer treatment.
Navigate – A Breast CNS Team in a large NHS Trust sharing support and resources for all parents via instagram
Obsorne Trust provides children aged 16 years and under whose parent/s have cancer access to recreational activities during a parent/s treatment by funding up to 3 activities such as a cinema trip, play centre visit or a meal out. Activities are supervised by an adult family member or friend. The aim is to offer the parent/s some rest and the children some time away from all that cancer entails.
BOOKS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN:
What we did when Mummy got cancer, by Katherine Simpson-Jacobs. I was given this book and it is a lovely picture book aimed at children of a mummy who has radiotherapy. It is simple and easy to understand.
B is for Breast Cancer (Meet Lucy and Jack) Lucy and Jack have a Mum who has been diagnosed with primary breast cancer and needs to have chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy. This book explores a little of the impact on the lives of the family, in a way designed to be helpful and non-threatening to children who may share a similar experience.
Live Better With Cancer stock a super selection of books aimed at telling younger children about Mummy’s cancer. They have done a review of their 10 favourite books (click here to read that). I definitely recommend you read this review then grab one or two books (remember you may be able to borrow them from your local support centre or library.
The Monster Series by Donia Youssef. Following her own breast cancer diagnosis, Donia found very little literature on how to explain what was happening to her two young daughters. So she wrote her own book – The Monster In Mummy. She’s followed this up with some more Monster books to help families where someone has cancer. Proceeds go to cancer charities and can be purchased via Donia’s website: The Monster in Mummy and The Monster in Wonderland.
Mighty & Bright, a US based support website with books aimed at helping children through challenging life experiences including the cancer of a parent.
Breast Cancer Now book called “Mummy’s Lump” aimed at talking to younger children about your breast cancer.
Butterfly Boy Oliver’s mummy is unwell. He hopes that if he looks after her, she will get strong enough to fly him in the air again, just like she used to. When Oliver finds a tiny, weak caterpillar, he knows just what to do. As he looks after the caterpillar it begins to change and Oliver learns that it is going to turn into a beautiful butterfly.
Guest Blogs on the topic of parenting with cancer:
(Information up to date as at 12 March 2021. Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a doctor, psychologist, surgeon, or other medical professional, I am just someone who has traveled the breast cancer road. Nothing in this website is intended to be taken as professional, medical or definitive advice. It merely contains tips and advice based on my experience together with information which I have researched from some excellent websites and books. ALWAYS talk to your medical team about concerns and questions relating to your cancer treatment plan. And please note that I cannot accept responsibility for the content of the websites to which I provide links. or the guest blogs published on the site.)