When you are a parent and hear the stunning words from your doctor, “It’s cancer,” your first thought is often for your children. You wonder “what this will mean for me, for them – for our family?” “How will I talk to my children about this?” “What do they need to know?” Cancer can be a confusing and isolating experience for the whole family.

As the parent, you have resources – your health care team to answer your medical questions, your friends to support you through the rigors of treatment and recovery, and maybe even a group of fellow cancer survivors to learn from and grow with as you face this disease. Yet although your children will also have a great deal of questions and concerns about your cancer diagnosis, treatments, and prognosis, often they do not have the same systems of support or places/people to go to when they have questions or worries. They can’t easily talk about it at school or with their friends, and they often won’t even know the right questions to ask.

 When Janice was 11 years old, her father was diagnosed with cancer. “I remember that time as a blur filled with confusion and many questions that went unanswered. For example, questions about the details of the surgery, why was my dad crying, what’s going to happen to me?” It wasn’t enough to have a loving family and friends; information and peer support, from peers that understood cancer and its challenges, was essential just like it is for adults. She remembers, “While I had valuable support from a close-knit group of friends, it just wasn’t enough. They couldn’t fully understand my feelings of embarrassment, all the uncertainty and the preoccupation about the ‘what ifs.’ ‘What if my dad dies?’ I felt really isolated and all alone. It would have helped so much to have met other children who had a parent with cancer to get a chance to know other kids who had a father that was bald and too sick to come to my activities, and more importantly, meeting other kids who worried that they might lose their parent to cancer.”

Recent research indicates that children who have a parent with cancer often feel isolated and are left with many unanswered questions. They report yearning for someone to talk to who is their age and shares this same central life experience and challenge. Fortunately, today there are opportunities for kids and their families to meet others facing a parent’s cancer diagnosis.

 Our Facing Cancer Together program offers education and support programs throughout the year. Next month, our 5-week education and support program begins. While parents meet to discuss parenting through cancer, children and teens ages 5 18 join their peers in age-specific groups to talk about what it means to have a parent with cancer. In their groups the kids and teens learn the skills they will need to grow throughout this experience. Most importantly, they learn that they are not alone, not the only ones dealing with the uncertainties that are part of facing cancer, and they can even have fun with their peers while dealing with it.

If you and your children are facing a parent’s cancer diagnosis, we invite you to join us this March for our 5-week education and support series. For more details, go to https://mnangel.org/events/calendar-of-events , or contact us via email at jhaines@mnangel.org or by phone at 612-627-9000.

By Janice Haines and Missy Lundquist, Co-Directors, Facing Cancer Together Program.