Sharing Your Cancer Diagnosis With Your Child
- Marie Miao
…when a parent is diagnosed with cancer, their first concern is how they will share the diagnosis with their children. While the medical team provides a full rand of treatment and support available for the patient, there is usually not enough support for the child. In honor of World Cancer Day, we tapped into Marie Miao, oncology social worker, and founder of irro irro, a minimalist clothing brand with modern designs structured to cater to women going through cancer treatment, to bring this topic to light in hopes of helping you or someone you know. Marie directs the CLIMB program at her local cancer center, where she has seen the benefits of educating children the facts about cancer, and the comfort it brings to be around other children who are experiencing similar circumstances.
Sharing the news about your cancer diagnosis is never easy, and naturally, uncomfortable. However, children are intuitive, and they are much more resilient than we give them credit for. It’s helpful to discuss in a safe place where the child is comfortable sharing their feelings -- often times, home. I f you aren’t showing obvious signs of change, it may be beneficial to have the conversation once you know your treatment plan. This way you have more information to share with your child and help answer their questions. You may even want to practice the conversation with another person or even rehearse it to yourself.
…your child’s age can be a key factor in how the information is presented, it’s always a good idea to ask the child about their knowledge of cancer and start from there. I believe that as a parent, you know your own child better than anyone else, and the amount of information and how it’s presented should be what’s right for your own family.
Once you know how much they understand, be honest about what you know (the type of cancer, location of tumor), the treatment plan, some changes they may see (physically/schedules in family), and most importantly, that they did nothing to cause this disease. Being honest will help them trust you, and help calm their worries and anxiety. Allow them to ask questions. Keep your answers simple, and in easy terms as their attention span may not be long.
If you’re unsure of your treatment plan or prognosis, it’s okay to say, “Right now there’s no way to know what is going to happen. But, when I know more, I will be honest and keep you updated. I love you, and I am here to answer any of your questions.”
…learn through modeling. Let them know that it’s okay to have different emotions. When a parent is feeling sad, it’s good to be honest about those feelings -- it’s okay not to hide those tears. This normalizes the child’s feelings, allowing them to comfortably share their emotions throughout the cancer journey.
Reach out for help. Talk to your social worker for support and resources in the community. Depending on your location, there are great programs for children whose parent has cancer, such as CLIMB or Kids Konnected. Speak from your heart, it’s the best place to start the conversation.
Here are some of the modern, light pieces from Marie’s irro irro collection. A portion of their proceeds are donated to Children’s Treehouse Foundation CLIMB program, a psychosocial intervention programming to train facilitators bridging the gap between hospitals and patients.