While there are different types of cancer and each family’s cancer experience is unique, the experiences of children have many commonalities. Here’s a few tips:

  • Just because there is uncertainty about your future doesn’t mean there is nothing to say or tell. Teens and preteens want to know what you know, even if it’s unclear.
  • It’s important that kids understand what is really happening because it can impact the choices they make about how they spend their time. For example, your child might have talked about going to a dance but wonders “Should I go? Is it that bad that I should stay home and spend time with my dad?” Help them understand what you can do and what you can’t do with them.
  • What do kids really want to know? Usually they want to know about the imminence of death and concrete facts about your illness.

Here are some recommendations for your family about how to communicate with one another about cancer. They’re ways to reduce the pressure of an emergency family meeting where they might feel expected to suddenly absorb a lot of information, or a situation where they may feel like they aren’t comfortable coming to you with their questions, for fear of seeming ignorant or unable to properly ask.

  • Have a family notebook. Kids can write their questions down on their time, after thinking about them, and you can answer them on your time. This keeps cancer from either being ignored as an issue or being the sole topic of conversation.
  • Hold family meetings with regularity, perhaps weekly. When meetings are only used for bad news, kids may come to fear them rather than to see them as opportunities for learning and sharing thoughts and feelings. Holding regular meetings gives everyone a chance to discuss without making it an environment associated with new worries.
  • Revisit with kids about what they know and understand about the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Just because you explained it once doesn’t mean that they retained everything, or that they understood it fully. Ask them to explain back what they understand so you can guide their knowledge.
  • Be honest and clear with your own uncertainty. Kids can tell if you’re worried and hiding something, and sharing your worries allows them to understand and adapt.
  • Determine an alternate source for them to go to with their questions. They may not always feel comfortable asking you some questions about cancer, or they might not want to burden you with their concerns and worries. A trusted friend or support group can be very valuable for them in learning to cope with the uncertainty that has been added to their lives.

Al Stewart once said, “We measure our days out in steps of uncertainty , not turning to see how far we’ve come. And peer down the highway from here to eternity and reach out for love on the run.” Don’t be afraid to face your uncertainty together with your family.