Go backWhat's Going On With Mum?
We understand your worries. Get answers for kids (and parents!) if Mum has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
If your mum has breast cancer, you probably have a lot of questions about what’s going to happen to her and to your family. You may be worried, sad and even angry about your mum’s sickness. One way to deal with your worries is to find out exactly what’s going on with mum and how her sickness may affect you.
- Your mum’s cancer is not contagious. That means she didn’t get it from anybody else and nobody can get it from her.
- No one knows exactly why your mum got cancer. But one thing you should know for sure is that nothing you did or said could have caused it.
- Having breast cancer doesn’t mean that your mum is about to die. There are many ways to treat the disease and to make your mum feel better. Many women live for a long time after being treated for breast cancer.
- There are different ways to treat breast cancer. Your mum will probably have to go to hospital for some of her treatments. If you want to know more about how mum’s cancer is being treated, don’t be afraid to ask. You can also ask to go with mum to the hospital and talk to the people who are taking care of her.
- Breast cancer treatments can make mum feel tired and sick. She may not be able to do all the things she usually does. That doesn’t mean the treatments aren’t working. It also doesn’t mean that mum can’t take care of you any more. It does mean that mum needs to rest a lot, and that she may need more help from you than she used to, whilst she’s getting better.
- Breast cancer treatments can make mum look different. She may lose her hair or look very skinny or pale. This doesn’t mean the treatments aren’t working or that the cancer is getting worse. When the treatments are over, mum’s hair will grow back, and she’ll look healthy again.
- Mum may feel sad about her sickness and she may even cry sometimes. This doesn’t mean mum’s cancer is getting worse or that she’s about to die. You can help her just by being with her and talking about why she’s sad.
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Talking With Children and Family Members
Young children, such as those from ages 4 to 7, only understand concrete notions — that is, what they see, touch, hear or have experienced. So their questions might be “What is that for?” (pointing to an IV) — or “Does your ‘ow’ hurt like mine does?” These children express feelings concretely, often by taking actions. For example, a 5-year-old brought her mother a bandage after she was crying from a chemotherapy treatment. On the other hand, just because children of this age don’t say they are upset, doesn’t mean that they are emotionally unaware. Often distress is expressed physically, such as loss of appetite, bed-wetting, difficulty sleeping or nightmares, and hitting other children. If these problematic behaviors are consistent for more than two weeks, a consultation with a child psychologist may be valuable.
School-age children, ages 6-12, can understand and identify with experiences that they have not directly participated in. They can also understand the meaning of events. For example, if mum goes to hospital often, this pattern of events may mean that she is seriously ill. Children are also more socially aware at this age, and may hesitate to voice a concern for fear of upsetting the parent. It is good to ask kids of this age group if they have any questions or concerns, on a weekly basis. This shows them that talking about worries is appropriate. Although children of this age group who are distressed may show it in the same way as younger children, the most frequent change to watch for is poorer school performance.
There is a universal rule when talking with children about serious subjects — answer only the question they ask, and don’t assume that they are asking more than what they have actually said. If you can do this, you can help the children in your life understand the information you are telling them a little at a time, which is easiest for any child.
Adolescent daughters and sons can have the most complicated reactions to their mother’s illness. Adolescence is a time when they want to become independent, yet out of concern for the parent they want to be closer to the family. Even though they are very involved with friends, they feel a pull or obligation to be at home. They are also, for the first time, able to identify with the same sex parent as an individual, and may be frightened of loss. On the other hand, adolescents are also capable of great intimacy, intensity and understanding. They understand the meaning of loss and can talk about it.
Adult children can present different challenges and concerns, which are no less important or emotional in nature. Many adult children of cancer survivors are very supportive and loving when a parent has breast cancer. For female children, however, dealing with their mother’s breast cancer diagnosis can be especially difficult when they realize that their parent’s diagnosis brings them increased risk. You can only be honest, share your own feelings, and help them to learn more about breast cancer along with you.