If there are children in the family, the first reaction is often to keep the cancer diagnosis from them. Parents and other adults in the family may feel that the children would not be able to understand, or they may want to protect the children from any distress that the news might bring. For some, it may simply be that they do not know how to talk to the children about it.
Studies have shown that children as young as 18 months old begin to understand the world around them. Children are often able to sense that something is wrong, from changes at home such as increased tension and changed schedules, and will worry more if they feel that certain information is being kept from them. Some may think that something they did might have caused the parent to be ill.
Therefore, it is important to be honest and straightforward with children rather than leave them to imagine and draw conclusions that can be worse than the reality.
What you can do
As the caregiver, you may want to offer support to your loved one during the conversation with their children about cancer. Reassure him/her that sharing this information can help build trust and relationship with their children, and that most of them will be able to cope, given age-appropriate information and good support.
You, or your loved one can:
How do I respond if the child asks if my loved one is going to die?
When to call your cancer care team
Sometimes, despite being honest with the child, some children may react to your loved one’s illness in many different ways. They may:
Please inform your doctor or nurse if you notice any of the above, or if you feel that it is difficult for you or your loved one to speak to the children about cancer. Sometimes kids, especially teenagers, may find it easier to open up to an adult who is not their parent.
If you are a patient with NCCS, you may also call +65 6436 8417 or +65 64368088 to book an appointment to speak to an NCCS medical social worker or clinical psychologist.
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The above contents are made available as part of TEMASEK FOUNDATION- ACCESS (Accessible Cancer Care to Enable Support for Survivors) PROGRAMME, a holistic care programme to support cancer patients during their care and recovery journey.
The contents have been approved by the Cancer Education Information Service, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), for people with cancer and their families and caregivers. However, this information serves only as a guide and should not be used as a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or advice. For specific medical conditions, please seek expert medical advice from your healthcare team.
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