The only thing worse than having a doctor tell you that you have been diagnosed with cancer is telling your children. Just saying the words, “I have cancer” can make you choke. It took me two years to say the words without a struggle.
So how do you share the news calmly to the most precious people in your life?
Think age appropriate when you share the news. A younger child will digest the news differently from a pre-teen or teenager. You may choose to gather the family in a room together or tell each child separately.
Use language they can easily understand and keep the medical explanations simple. Let them know that everyone is a “team” and we are going to win the battle. Tell them you have a great medical team on your side to treat you.
Speak in a calm and reassuring manner. Practice in front of the mirror. It helps to have your spouse or partner with you when you break the news.
Tell them how much you need and value their support and that you will still and always be there for them. It will be a challenge to face and important to plan, prepare and allow for a little down time but never “away time” from their needs.
Allow time to answer their questions. If you are met with their silence, give them a chance to digest the information quietly and tell them you are available to talk at anytime..
Helping your family process the information
After receiving the news, some children may continue on with their daily activities but some may withdraw. Be observant to their behavior and any changes. You may want to inform their school guidance counselor(s)and to ask them be alert for any behavioral changes at school.
Allow your children to express themselves through creativity or physical activities- whatever it takes to get any rage or fear out of their system. Play games together, attend sporting events, movies or shows. Paint; craft, cook, read together; plant flowers- whatever it takes to make their surroundings fun and distracting.
Set aside quality time with your partner or spouse that does not involve “cancer talk” or finances. He/she will be facing your diagnosis as lover, caretaker, family provider and co-parent. That is a lot of weight to juggle. Be sensitive to this and to the fact he/she will need an emotional outlet.
Establish a communications policy
If you are choosing to keep your diagnosis quiet at work or among friends, tell your kids so they don’t share the news with friends. Explain how it is important to you that the news is kept just among family but that they are free to ask you questions and express their feelings with you.
Breaking the news and processing and managing the information is hard. Start with a communications plan that works for you and your family and stick with it to make it a little easier.