Thursday, April 29, 2010

Talking and Checking-In

This post was contributed by a colon-cancer survivor and father to two girls. They were pre-school and early elementary age during his diagnosis and treatment.

Choosing how you say what you need to say is as important as what you say to kids about a parent's cancer. I sought counseling on these points, discussed the issues with my wife, and then we had the discussions with our children. Key issues were:

1) Giving enough information so the children understood what was happening and what was going to happen. For us this went something like: "I have an illness called cancer, and need to take strong medicine which will make me tired...."

2) Be open to questions, let them know they can ask any question anytime. Pause so kids can think of questions or know you're open to them. When asked "Is Dad going to die from this?" our answer was "We don't think so. We're doing everything we can to help me get healthy, and it's probably going to take a long time for me to get well. We have great doctors and will do our best." Our idea was to not make a false promise of guaranteed survival, but instead to show our confidence in a realistic way.

3) Reassure kids that they are safe and will continue their normal routines as much as possible. "Your going to keep going to preschool and school and playing with friends..."

4) Check in often (a couple times a week at least was right for us) with the kids with open ended questions or invitations for them to share. "how are you feeling about my cancer? etc." One time my then 4 year old replied, after a long pause: "Dad, I know how you got cancer. You got cancer from the cat. When we were at grampa's house because I heard you sneezing when you were with the cat." I helped clear that up, the point is that she wouldn't have shared that unless there was a clear opportunity for that. Also, kids imaginations will fill in what you don't tell them, often in ways that it's better to clear up.

There are many good resources that address these points, including books such as "When a Parent Has Cancer."

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