It’s important to talk to children about cancer-even with a “bleak” prognosis. My husband, Dan was stage IV, metastatic, when he was diagnosed. So, we have always been told that his cancer was terminal and that we were buying time. The best we could hope for was that he would be labeled NED, No Evidence of Disease (like remission). It’s especially difficult to talk to children about cancer when you are given such a bleak prognosis.
One year into his treatment plan, Dan was declared NED (having no evidence of disease). This is a term used to describe what people think of as a state of remission in certain types of cancer. It means that the cancer is still there, it’s just too small to be seen on a scan.
It’s a wonderful feeling to be NED, even though we’d been told that it was only temporary and that at some point Dan’s cancer would rear its ugly head again. One thing that surprised me was how uneasy I felt, even during that time. The first thing that bothered me was that his scans were now farther apart. Instead of being every 6 weeks, they were every 3 months. What if cancer began to progress just after a scan, and rather than it growing, unchecked, for 6 weeks, it had 3 months to multiply? That question plagued me.
We were counting on God to give us the time we needed as a family, and we were counting on people to pray for us, so I also feared that because Dan was doing well, people would forget that we still needed prayer.
Our kids worried too.
In the back of their mind was always the list of “what-ifs.” It was especially bad just before a scan.
- What had happened since the last scan?
- Will we be able to stay the course, or will we suddenly have to learn about a new treatment?
- What will be the new side-effects?
- Will we have a new schedule, dictated by the chemo schedule?
- Will there be another option when this one runs out–because it always stops working at some point.
How to talk to children about cancer:
While most young children, will be able to quickly move beyond the cancer once treatment is done and you are feeling better, some children worry more than others and may need continued support. In these cases it is especially important to use care as you talk to children about cancer, giving them the reassurance they need, while still being honest.
Teens may avoid talking openly about their fears or concerns. They often feel a need to protect their parent by keeping their fears to themselves. It is often easier for teens to discuss their fears with someone outside the family. You can see if they would like you to help set that up with an adult they trust or can feel at ease talking to.
Kids tend to see things just as they are. Once you complete your treatment, life goes back to normal and you begin to look like your “old self” again, they’ll probably think that the illness is over. While you might want to tell your children that everything will be fine, it’s best to let some time pass before you give them any assurances, because unfortunately, cancer can recur or metastasize (spread to another part of the body).
Honesty is the Best Policy
- Be honest about your feelings, with yourself and with your kids. They may be experiencing some of the same feelings that you are. Be honest about the fact that if the cancer returns, it will mean more treatment, of some sort.
- During this time, you can–and should be happy.
- There’s plenty to be happy about, and you can share those things together. Maybe you’re looking forward to not feeling nauseous anymore. If you lost your hair due to treatment, you can enjoy seeing it return (maybe even different from before).
- Enjoy the moment, even if you don’t know what to expect in the future.
For people who have an “incurable” cancer, time is the goal, more time to spend doing the things God had called you to in this life, spending time with family and friends, leaving your mark. Remission, NED, stable disease, they are all good, but they are also another place in the timeline when cancer patients and their loved ones take a deep breath that they will hold a while longer. Talk to children about cancer-even if things look bleak.
In our case, we had reason to hope, even though, medically, it looked hopeless. Our hope was in the Lord, Jesus Christ. He’s been our strength throughout this journey. I’m glad we did hope because we’ve had 4 amazing years of memories, to date, that we might’ve otherwise missed.
Facing Cancer as a Parent:
Helping your Children Cope with your Cancer
What Are YOUR Thoughts?
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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker