Helping Young Children Cope With Cancer

A few people have emailed me along the way about how I helped my children through my cancer diagnosis and treatment.  I wish I had amazing words of wisdom, but I don’t.  I can only tell you what we did and tell you that our children seem happy and well adjusted. 

Meleah probably took it the hardest, not that she really understood what was going on fully, as she was only 3 when I was diagnosed, but she is very fearful and often tearful.  I try to figure out if this is her personality or a little of both.  She is the one that wants to see everything that changes on my body.  If she sees me changing my clothes, she will say “mommy, I wish you didn’t have cancer.”  And I will remind her that I don’t have cancer anymore, and the scars are left from having had cancer. 

Elijah was only one when I was diagnosed.  He is an amazing little boy and just rolled with the punches.  I wasn’t ready to wean him.  I kept thinking  “just one more time.”  Weaning my last child, because I had to, made me angrier than anything else about cancer.  It stole the way I wanted to parent from me and I knew once it was gone I would neverget it back.  I left to U of M for the first night away from my baby boy, one week after my diagnosis, and I knew I would never nurse him again.  My breasts not only hurt from the cancer but they were engorged and full, and leaking milk like tears of grief and sadness.  It broke my heart and still does.

Charis was the oldest and understood the most.  We were up front with Charis from the start.  She could see that I was emotionally and physically not doing well, so it wouldn’t have been fair not to tell her.  Onemistake we made was reading a book for kids about cancer that we had not read before reading it to her.  At the end, someone dies.  I remember her eyes got very big and she said “Oh…that scares me mommy.”  I’m not saying the discussion of the possibility should never arise.  I just wasn’t prepared for the discussion.  However, I think my response was very sufficient for her.  I said “Mommy is going to do everything I can to get better and I’m going to go to the very best doctors.  They will give me very strong medicine that will make me look very sick, but I’m planning that it will make me better.  If  there is ever a time I don’t think I will make it, I will let you know.  Until then I don’t want you to worry about it.”  And she didn’t.  In fact a few months later when I did look sick and I didn’t have any hair I asked her how she was doing.  I asked her if she ever got scared about mommy’s cancer.  Her response was very wise I think for a 7 year old.  She said “when I start thinking about it and get scared I just run around and play and then I don’t think about it anymore.” 

So I guess my one bit of advice is that you need to be honest with your kids.  But not brutally honest.  We told them that mommy was sick but the medicine would make me sicker before I would get better.  That I wouldn’t look very good for a while.  We kept them ahead of the curve by telling them that my hair would fall out before it actually did.  We included them in the “shaving party” and had them help if they wanted.  (Charis did not enjoy this very much)  We told them early on that I would need to have my breasts removed and we reminded them of it occasionally so they were prepared.  We also told them how there would be a doctor later who would give me new “na-na’s.”  And so it was.  We just kept the lines of communication open and we helped them feel a part of everything.  And thankfully we did not have to prepare them for death, but we would have done that had we needed to do that as well. 

So a few weeks ago I was contacted by someone about a new resource for young children and they sent me a copy of the book.  I have to say that I wish we would have had the book back when I was diagnosed.   Here’s why I would have liked it so much:  There are over 50 pages of different scenarios addressing cancer for younger children so you can make your own book to help your child cope with your specific situation.   There are pages that deal with everything from mommy is having chemo, daddy is losing his hair, grandma is feeling badly but she will feel better soon, etc.  You can take pages in and out of the binder as you need them.  It’s a great resource if someone you love is going through cancer.  The book is called “Someone I Love is Sick.”  You can find more information and resources at their web site here.


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