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Old 05-18-2010, 09:47 PM   #1
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Unhappy How do I explain cancer to a child?

I am devastated, I found out today that my sister (27yrs old) has aggressive, invasive breast cancer. The report came back as a grade 3 tumour, with all 3 properties they measure all being grade 3 (total score of 9). My sister will be going for a mastectomy and chemo and/or radiation.

My 3yo is too young, but my almost 10 year-old needs to know. What do I say? In our family, everyone who has ever had cancer has died (as well as DD1's grandma on her dad's side, she died of cancer a couple yrs ago). We don't know what stage my sister's cancer is, so we don't know her prognosis.

I just don't know how to tell DD1. There are so many questions (that she will have too) that we just don't have answers to. Do I wait until after my sister's surgery to tell her, when we have more answers? Tell her now so she doesn't ever feel angry she wasn't told, if heaven-forbid the situation turns out to be bad? How do I tell her?

My sister is my only family, and I am so numb right now.

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Old 05-18-2010, 09:53 PM   #2
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Re: How do I explain cancer to a child?

I am SO sorry mama I can't even imagine how you are feeling right now. I've never had to explain something like this to a child but I would wait until you have more answer. I'd hate to scare your 10 year old to pieces if everything went really well with surgery. Your lo should know what is going on but I'd wait until all the facts are out. Your sister will be in our thoughts
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Old 05-18-2010, 10:32 PM   #3
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Re: How do I explain cancer to a child?

Oh wow I am so sorry. That is devastating news. If it were my 10yo, I would be really honest with her. She should know that her aunty is sick. Be frank and factual. Your sister is really sick, her breast is infected with cancer and tell her what is going to happen. She is going to have chemo which is to kill the cancer, but it will make her seem sicker for a little while. And I think it's okay to tell her that you don't know all the answers. She will sense that something is wrong anyways, and it would be better to be honest with her. It's okay to tell her that you are scared too.

mama I am so sorry.
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Old 05-18-2010, 11:50 PM   #4
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Re: How do I explain cancer to a child?

So sorry to hear about your sister. My MIL was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and has already been through her first round of chemo. I haven't told my kids yet. 10 and 8 year old would understand but the 4 year old wouldn't. I just haven't figured out how much to tell them and how to broach the subject. They know something is up. She came to a school performance with her chemo pump one day and they hear people constantly asking how she's doing. I need to tell them something but like you..I don't know what to say.
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Old 05-18-2010, 11:58 PM   #5
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Re: How do I explain cancer to a child?

OMG momma...I am so sorry
We just went through this in my DH's family. His Aunt Gaily just died the day before my DD's birthday. She had been battling cancer for a while, but finally had to start chemo just last year. We had never told him about her cancer, because there really wasn't a need to. Well, last summer when she started her chemo, she lost all of her hair. It FREAKED him out. I had to take him aside and explain what was going on with her. I explained that sometimes people die from cancer, but that the chemo was treatment to help her live. Well, April 15th, Aunt Gaily was told they could no longer do anything to treat her, and that she had 2-3 weeks to live. The Saturday before she died, I asked my son what he thought happened to people when they died, and he said, "I believe they are born again as a baby, and they live a whole new life." I asked him if he found comfort in that, and he told me that he did, but that it still made him sad to think of his loved ones dying. We left the conversation at that. The next day, we sat him down to let him know that Aunt Gaily only had a short time to live. My son's eyes teared up a little, but when he saw his dad crying, he lunged at him and wrapped his arms around him and held him SO tight. He just held on tight, and let go when DH stopped crying. He was our little rock. He was sad, but understood that Aunt Gaily would no longer be in pain, and in his belief, she wouldn't be dead forever. At her memorial service, he held on to DH, patted him on the back, and made sure he had tissue to wipe away DH's tears. I tear up thinking about how totally sweet and compassionate my little boy is.

At any rate...I would be honest about the severity of the situation, but that as a family, you all need to remain hopeful. Tell her what you do know, and that you will keep her updated. There are books to help her process this, that are totally age appropriate. Maybe check out your local book store first, to have it on hand for her. If you guys go to church, see if there is a grief support ministry. If not at your church, at another church in your area. That might be a HUGE help. If you don't go to church, the hospital should be able to provide you with grief support info.
Good luck momma...I know how hard it is. DD is 3, and doesn't get that Aunt Gaily is gone. She keeps asking to see her, and when we tell her she's gone (she doesn't know what "dead" is yet) she asks where she went. My kids were close with Aunt Gaily
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Old 05-19-2010, 12:02 AM   #6
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Re: How do I explain cancer to a child?

Quote:
Originally Posted by MamaWillow View Post
Oh wow I am so sorry. That is devastating news. If it were my 10yo, I would be really honest with her. She should know that her aunty is sick. Be frank and factual. Your sister is really sick, her breast is infected with cancer and tell her what is going to happen. She is going to have chemo which is to kill the cancer, but it will make her seem sicker for a little while. And I think it's okay to tell her that you don't know all the answers. She will sense that something is wrong anyways, and it would be better to be honest with her. It's okay to tell her that you are scared too.

mama I am so sorry.
I am so sorry to hear about your sister and will pray she gets into remission quickly. You can go through this site, it's the american cancer society
http://www.cancer.org/docroot/home/index.asp

There is a lot fo good info on there, also you will find links to help for her, support, transportation to dr appts called road to recovery and things she will need.
have her call 18002272345
I agree with the mama above on how to explain things to children. Cancer is scary but it IS beatable, my son was almost 4 when my dd got cancer and we explained it to him what was going on with her and he went through the journey with is. Please have her contact the AMC though that will be the best call for her to make to get things started, and it is free, we (our teams for relay for life)raise money for the american cancer society to help get patients things they need.
Quote:
Originally Posted by AVDesigns View Post
So sorry to hear about your sister. My MIL was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and has already been through her first round of chemo. I haven't told my kids yet. 10 and 8 year old would understand but the 4 year old wouldn't. I just haven't figured out how much to tell them and how to broach the subject. They know something is up. She came to a school performance with her chemo pump one day and they hear people constantly asking how she's doing. I need to tell them something but like you..I don't know what to say.
How is she doing mama?I hope she is able to kick cancer's butt too and just from my own experience, 4 year olds understand a lot more than we think.
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Old 05-19-2010, 03:23 AM   #7
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Re: How do I explain cancer to a child?

I have cancer and a 1 year old. Obviously I haven't told him anything.

However I think you should tell your child about the things that they will likely see. Like the hair loss and she is sick, so we need to make sure we keep all germs away from her. I wouldn't go into death yet because there is sooo much that can be done with modern medician that I wouldn't want to upset a child before you needed to. If your child flat out asks if she is going to die, I would say I hope (pray) not, and leave it at that.

As a cancer patient, I know I don't mind questions periodically but it would stress me out if every time I saw a family member they looked at me like I was going to die tomorrow. Children often can't hide what they are feeling and often focus on the worst so that is why I would leave the death thing out of it.

Good luck! Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and there are lots of treatments out there for it. Also your sister may qualify for free or low cost wigs because of it. There was a woman on the lymphoma board that said that breast cancer patients get that where she is. I would also like to say that if your sister doesn't feel like she is in good hands, don't be afraid to change hospitals or get a second opinion.
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Old 05-19-2010, 06:39 AM   #8
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Re: How do I explain cancer to a child?

Be honest.

My DH is a cancer survivor, and while we didn't have children when he had cancer, I've had to explain to my niece and nephew about it and later I had to explain to my oldest son why we participate in Relay for Life and why Dad has to go to the dr. for check-ups.

Explain what kind of cancer it is and that her aunt is very sick. The drs are going to treat her with surgery and chemo. Explain the side effects of chemo and what she might expect when she sees her aunt. Ask your sister first, but if it is ok with her, tell you DD that your aunt will answer her questions. If she asks if her aunt will die, be honest with her.

I was 10 when my grandmother was diagnosed with liver cancer. My parents explained it to me and explained that there was no treatment for her. It helped me process her death better than my cousins who had no idea that she was sick.

I'm so sorry you are dealing with this and I hope that your sister responds well to her treatment. Many, many hugs and prayers!
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Old 05-19-2010, 08:15 AM   #9
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Re: How do I explain cancer to a child?

My friend illustrated a children's book about cancer. Her sister and her flower girl both have had cancer.
The Great Katie Kate Tackles Questions about Cancer

It is available through Amazon, and through her website.

http://jzartworksblog.blogspot.com/2...-released.html
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Old 05-19-2010, 08:40 AM   #10
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Re: How do I explain cancer to a child?

I haven't had to explain this to my children, but I want to share my experiences.

My grandmother died when I was almost 6, she'd been sick for a while (cancer) and my parents explained that she was sick. When she died, I understood she had been sick for a while and died because of that and she was in heaven. The only part of that funeral that I remember is asking my dad why my grandma was smiling if she was dead...he told me that she was happy and felt much better in heaven. 25 years later that memory is clear as a bell, I honestly don't remember the visits to see her when she was sick...just that one.

My grandfather died when I was just under 9. My parents had told me he was sick and we were going to see him in the hospital on Saturday morning. They didn't tell me anything else, why he was sick, what was wrong, etc. Granted, he was diagnosed and hospitalized then died in less than 3 weeks. I woke up Saturday morning and my parents met me at the bottom of the steps and told me he died. I remember being furious because no one told me he could die, my dad had been with him (he had surgery that AM) and I was furious that my dad got to see him and I didn't. It was a long time before I found out the whole story and what had really happened, but I was quite angry about him dying...for me, I felt like he just left me.

Anywho, the point of my ramblings...kids are smarter than adults give them credit for. If she was my daughter, I'd tell her your sister is sick and that she has an infection in her breasts called cancer...tell her what she can expect to see with your sister while she's undergoing treatment (what she'll look like, that they're doing a mastectomy, etc.). I would answer her questions honestly at her level and be honest if you don't know the answers. If you believe in prayer, pray with her...for me, being proactive has always made me feel better...look into ACS and the relay for life...see if there are any activities she can participate in Susan G Koman I think has something too. IMO, it's something she can do to help and it gives her a little power in a difficult situation.

My thoughts and prayers are with your sister and your family.
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