Talking with Your Children About Advanced Cancer

Talking with Your Children about Advanced Cancer

Children of all ages can sense when things are wrong. Keeping your children’s trust is still very important at this time. It’s best to be as open as you can about the fact that your cancer is terminal. They may worry that they did something to cause you to get sick. They may be afraid that no one will take care of them. They may also feel that you are not spending as much time with them as you used to.

Some children become very clingy. Others get into trouble in school or at home. Let the child’s teacher or guidance counselor know what is going on. It helps to keep all the lines of communication open, both with your kids and with the other people in their lives.

Although you can’t protect them from what they may feel, you can prepare them. If they ask if you are going to die, you can tell them the truth with comfort and understanding. What you tell them and how they take it will depend on their age and what they have gone through already in life. While you can’t protect them from pain and loss, you can help them cope with it and understand it as part of life. Try to:

  • Be honest. Tell them you’re sick and that the doctors are working to help you feel comfortable.
  • Let them know that nothing they did or said caused the cancer. And make sure they know that they can’t catch it from you or others.
  • Tell them you love them. Tell them it’s okay to be upset, angry, or scared. Encourage them to talk.
  • Be clear and simple. Children do not have the focus of adults. Use words they can understand.
  • Let them know that they will always be taken care of and loved.
  • Let them know that it’s okay to ask questionsTell them you will answer them as honestly as you can. In fact, children who aren’t told the truth about an illness can become even more scared. They often use their imagination and fears to explain the changes around them.


Talking with Your Teenagers about Advanced Cancer

Many of the things listed above also apply to teenagers. They need to hear the truth that your cancer is end-stage. This may help them from feeling guilt and stress. But be aware that they may try to avoid the subject. They may become angry, act out, or get into trouble as a way of coping. Others simply withdraw. Try to:

  • Give teenagers the space they needThis is especially important if you have to rely on them more than before to help with family needs.
  • Give them time to deal with their feelings, alone or with their friends.
  • Let your teenager know that they should still go to school. Tell them they should keep taking part in sports and other fun activities.

If you have trouble talking with your teen about your cancer, you might want to ask for help. Try asking a close friend, relative, or health care provider for advice. You could also go to a trusted coach, teacher, or youth minister. Your social worker or doctor can help you as well.

Talking with Your Adult Children about Advanced Cancer

Your relationship with your adult children may change when you learn that you have terminal cancer. You may have to rely on them differently than you have in the past. It’s a normal reaction if you find that this is hard for you. Many people find this difficult. After all, you may be used to giving support rather than getting it. Or it may be hard for other reasons. Perhaps your relationship with your children has been a more formal or distant one.

Adult children have their concerns, too. They may become fearful of their own mortality. They may feel guilty because they’re overwhelmed by the many demands of their lives as parents, children, and employees and unable to be there with you as much as they want.

As your illness progresses, it helps to:

  • Share decision-making with your children.
  • Involve them in issues that are important to you. These may include treatment choices, plans for the future, or types of activities you want to continue.

Reaching out to your adult children and openly sharing your feelings and wishes may help them cope with your cancer. It could bring you closer to them as well. It may also help lessen any fears or conflicts that may arise between siblings when important decisions need to be made.

Talking to Children about Death

Children of all ages may wonder about dying, life after death, and what happens to the body. If someone close to them has advanced cancer, their world may be changing monthly, weekly, or daily. That’s why it’s important to be honest with them and prepare them each step of the way. 

It’s important to answer all their questions. If not, they may imagine things or make up their own stories. Let them know that everything is being done to keep you comfortable. 

Tell them the truth. Children deserve to be told the truth about a poor prognosis. Hiding the truth from them leaves them unprepared for your death and can prolong the grief they will feel. And if you don’t talk about your condition or don’t tell the truth about it, your children may have a hard time trusting others in the future.

By including children in the family crisis, you can give them healthy ways of coping with what is happening. You can show them how to hope for the best while accepting the likely outcome of death. If you’re honest and up front, you’re teaching them that death is a natural part of life. Your honesty shows them it’s okay to talk about death.

Counselors and oncology social workers can also suggest ways to talk to kids about death in ways they understand. They may know of local or national programs that offer help to children in these situations. Or they may suggest books, videos, and websites that explore these topics.

Family Disagreements with Advanced Cancer

Any problems your family may have had before the cancer diagnosis are likely to be more intense now that you have learned the cancer is terminal. And relatives that you or your family members don’t know very well or who live far away may be around more often, which may complicate things.

It’s common for families to argue over things such as:

  • treatment options or whether to continue treatment at all
  • when to use hospice care
  • feelings that some family members are helping more than others
  • money issues

Although everyone may be trying to do what’s best, some family members may disagree as to what this means. Everyone brings their own set of beliefs and values to the table, which makes these decisions hard. It’s common for families to ask their health care team to hold a family meeting or to help with communication in some way.

“Talking to Others about Your Advanced Cancer” – provided by the National cancer Institute