Talking to children about cancer...

We have an 8 year old daughter, Willow. Her dad is Ben(32 yrs brain cancer). She started her first week of 3rd grade the same week Ben had his first seizure and then brain surgery. She was staying with family and did visit him once in the hospital. HE's now been through radiation. Inwhich she was very upset to find out that it didn't take the "purple thing" away. She has anxiety about him having seizures and that the cancer will grow and fill his head and he will die. Her words. So we are open and honest with her. We pretty much let her know what's going on and she talks to us when she needs to. I have her going to Kid Konnected a cancer support group for kids with sick parents. And she sees a counselor at school. Mostly in hope that she will get out what she needs to when she needs to.

How do you deal with the questions and help them not be scared all the time. It has affected her school work but overall considering what she's been through she's doing great! If I could take it away I would but this is our life. And I'm trying really hard to deal with it all. We now deal with Ben unable to work or drive. He can't be alone at home or with Willow, well I won't because I don't want her to be anxious that something may happen. And so the time Willow and I spent going out just on bike rides or to the store has dwindled. I am hoping Ben gets better to where we can do more.

She also takes most of her anger out on me. I try so hard to keep a calm quiet house, with NO stress. That is not easy with an 8 year old girl soon to be going through puberty! omg!

Anyone have any suggestions? THANKS!


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  • I wish I had some words of wisdom for you. I am a teacher and was diagnosed in the middle of the year. My 5th graders knew I had cancer once they saw I was no longer at work and the social worker and principal came in to talk to them. I had missed several days during the year for appointments to figure out what was wrong with me. I know 5th grade is a lot older than your daughter and I was not their parent, but doing just what you're doing I think is the best route. Trying to be honest (at their level of understanding) and getting her to a place where she can talk about her feelings if she wants to. I actually came on here to see if any parents had advice for me - I now have a 7th grader whose father is in the hospital dying of cancer. And all my experience as a survivor and educator, has me at a loss for how to talk with her and get her through this very difficult school year.

    Does your daughter have a journal where she can write down anything about the day? Maybe if she can write it down first on her own terms outside of a group setting, she will be more willing to share in the group soon? I don't know.

    Prayers to you and your family.
  • IT is tough for sure...the counselor said something to me that stuck with me is you know how scared you are? times that by ten and that's how scared they are. Kids aren't in control of anything so that makes things that much worse for them to deal with these kinds of things. I think she does write down things as well. Anyway and anything we can do to work out this horrible situation. We make it up as we go. Trying to find happiness. I think overall, that girl needs to know someone out there cares about what she is going through and how it affects her and knows she has a safe place to go and talk without judgement. If it's available a counselor experienced in cancer. I don't think Willow's teacher knows or understands at age 8...she tries really hard in school but she told me how much her mind wanders and worries about her dad during the day. It is a process that is far from over. How are you doing now?
    Thank you so much! you too!
  • I'm a sibling, not a parent, but we have sort-of a routine when something comes up with me. Do you have any relatives or close friends near by? Whenever I get sick, my grandparents usually come over. My dad is a doctor, so he doesn't really have time to stay home with me or take my brother and sister out unless it's on the weekends. But then my grandparents and parents can split up - one person can take my brother and sister to do something, and another can stay home and take care of me. My parents also try to arrange a lot of "playdates" for them when I'm sick. That way, my siblings have something fun to distract them, but they also have someone they can talk to about what's going on (whether it's a friend their age or an adult) or they can get some alone time with my parents when that hasn't been happening for awhile. Another positive is my siblings, especially my brother, get really nervous about medical stuff. So then they can come home, and they have something to talk to me about, which makes them feel more comfortable with the situation I think. Anyway - if you can have someone help you arrange time with just her, even if it's just an hour, she might like that. Or maybe she and a friend can do something special; when someone else in the family is getting a LOT of attention, sometimes you want to do something special too.

    I volunteer at a kids' grief center. I know there is one near my hometown that also is a cancer support center that does the same thing, but for kids with cancer or with family members who have cancer. Her support group sounds similar. But - lol, I'm getting to my point - one of the things we learned is around 8-10 is when kids are first able to grasp abstract concepts, so serious illness would qualify; not only is it a new thing in her life but it's most likely a new concept for her too and it's hard to understand. What the school counselor said makes sense to me too.
  • Thanks Autumn. Thank goodness everything is good now. I am 5 1/2 years well!

    I agree with Colleen. At such a young age the magnitude of the illness is so much more than we can imagine. I also heard someone once say that kids' worlds are limited to home,school, and pretty much that's it. So anything they focus on (be it positive or negative) encompasses their whole being. Whereas adults are juggling 100+ things they can only devote a certain part of their thinking to one thing at a time.

    I think when kids are sick certain hospitals have what's called Child Life Specialists. These trained "counselors" usually help the patients, their friends, and siblings about their illness at an appropriate level. You might check into a Children's Hospital by you to see if they can offer their services to you as well.
  • DMMDMM Community Member
    Book - Nowhere Hair: Explains cancer and chemo to your kids

    Nowhere Hair: Explains cancer and chemo to your kids (children)
    By Sue Glader

    The little girl in NOWHERE HAIR knows two things: Her mom's hair is not on her head anymore so therefore it must be somewhere around the house. After searching the obvious places the story reveals that her mother although going through cancer treatment is still silly attentive happy and yes sometimes very tired and cranky. She learns that she didn't cause the cancer can't catch it and that Mommy still is very much up for the job of mothering. The book written in rhyme explains hats scarves wigs going bald in public and the idea of being nice to people who may look a little different than you. It ends with the idea that what is inside of us is far more important than how we look on the outside. For any parent or grandparent NOWHERE HAIR offers a comfortable platform to explain something that is inherently very difficult.