Naturally, you to want to protect your children from bad news. The instinct to shelter them may make you reluctant to tell them about your cancer; however, it is best that you do. It will be difficult to continue hiding it and children are often able to sense when something is wrong. They may be more worried if they feel that important news is being kept from them.
Explain the Illness
Find a time where you will not be interrupted or distracted. Younger children will not need as much detail as older ones; too much information may confuse and distress them. Phrase answers to questions so that each child will be able to understand. Children up to age eight may be given a short explanation. Tell them that cancer means a part of your body that is not doing what it is supposed to do. There are bad cells in your body that can spread, so they need to be kept from growing or to be removed.
Prepare for reactions such as the child thinking that they caused the cancer (“magical thinking”) or that it is contagious. You may have to explain that cancer cannot be transmitted to them or the other parent.
For older children, name the illness so that they do not misunderstand. They may need a more detailed explanation and may ask questions about your specific type of cancer. If they have more information, they are less likely to feel helpless.
Explain to the child that there are treatments available that can help and that it is much rarer for people to die from cancer than it used to be.