Talking to your children about your cancer diagnosis

By Mélina Ladouceur on March 3 / 2015

[Cancer, Cancer Coaching, Caregivers, Families]Comments

One of the hardest conversations for any parent is sharing difficult news with their children. When you are diagnosed with cancer, not only are you coping with the shock of the diagnosis and your own fears and questions, but your mind soon shifts to those around you – your family, your partner, your young kids. I have seen many cancer patients who, upon receiving their diagnosis, have turned to one of our cancer coaches for support and guidance on how to share the news with their kids.

Some parents fear that if they tell their children, they will make them worry more. It is natural for you to want to protect your children; however your child will be better able to cope with your illness if you provide them with information clearly and honestly and if you are open with them rather than withholding information. Children are very intuitive; they sense when something is wrong and they pick up on their parent’s stress and anxiety.

A good strategy is to think about the most important message you want to communicate to your child and what you want them to know. Find a time to talk to your kids when you can all be together, in a familiar place such as the family home, when you will have time to answer questions. It is best to have another adult with you, such as a spouse, parent or close friend.

Ask your child what they know or understand about your situation. Children often pick up on those adult conversations that take place behind closed doors and may already know. It is important to use simple but correct language, like using the words “cancer” and “tumour”. Describe treatments as simply as possible without giving too much detail, which can be overwhelming.

Children also need reassurance that nothing they did caused the cancer and that they cannot catch cancer from you. Give children time to ask questions and share their feelings. Be prepared to not have an answer – it’s ok to say “I don’t know, but I’m going to try to find out and I’ll get back to you”. Children thrive on routine and also need to know how their lives might change once their parent starts treatment and what type of side effects their parent may experience.

Beyond the initial conversation, be open and available for your kids so they can talk to you about their feelings and ask questions. Exploring story books and websites with your child that are aimed to children coping with a parent’s cancer can also help your child recognize and express feelings about your cancer diagnosis.

If you or your family are impacted by cancer, please know that you can reach out to one of our cancer coaches at any time for additional information, support and practical guidance. Find out more by visiting

Mélina Ladouceur
Cancer Coach

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