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What's Going On With Mum?

We understand your worries. Get answers for kids (and parents!) if Mum has been diagnosed with breast cancer.


what's going on with mumIf 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.

Here’s some important information about breast cancer and how it may affect your mum and your family:
  • 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.


Here is a website you can visit with more information for kids who have parents with cancer.

Help Mum Feel Better: How You Can Help After Breast Cancer Surgery

If your mum just had breast cancer surgery, you’re probably very happy to have her back home from hospital. But she may not be back to her usual self right away. She may be feeling tired or sad and she may need more help from you than usual. Here are some things you can do to help whilst she’s recovering from her surgery.

Give her a gentle hug and tell her how much you love her. If she’s lying in bed, you can sit next to her and hold her hand. You don’t even have to say anything. For mum to feel your love is the most important thing.

mother and daughterIf she is feeling tired, you can spend quiet time with her watching TV, reading or resting. Your company can make a big difference in making her feel better.

Tell mum about what you’ve been doing in school or about some of the fun things you’ve been doing with friends. She probably feels sad if she's missing out on activities and she’ll feel better if you tell her about what’s been going on.

If she isn’t too tired, bring an activity to do with her. You can bring a book to read or a colouring book to draw in. Another idea is to look through some old family photo albums together. Mum wants to be a part of your life, and doing fun things together is a good way to include her.

Let her know you want to help and ask her if she needs anything. On days she feels bad, she may need more help with household chores. Even just bringing her a drink or making sure your bedroom is clean can be a big help.

Make her something special. A card, a picture or a crafts project can show her how much you care and she can keep your special gift near her bed to cheer her up if she’s feeling sad.

Telling Friends About Mum: How to Answer Your Friends’ Questions about Mum’s Breast Cancer

If your mum has breast cancer, your friends will probably want to know about it. They might ask you questions that you think are embarrassing or that you don’t feel like answering. It’s up to you whether or not you want to talk about it. Just remember that your good friends probably want to help you and that you may feel better if you talk to them.

Here are some of the questions your friends might ask and some answers you can give them:

Question: What’s wrong with your mum?
Answer: My mum has a sickness called breast cancer. She’s getting treatment for it and some of the treatments make her feel bad. I’m helping her to feel better.

Question: Are you sick too?
Answer: No, I’m not sick and nobody else in my family, except for Mum, is sick. Cancer isn’t contagious. It’s not like a cold or the flu. She didn’t catch it from anyone and I can’t catch it from her. You won’t catch it from her, either, even if you come over to my house.

Question: Are you allowed to have friends over?
Answer: Sometimes when Mum isn’t feeling well we have to be quiet, and then it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to have friends over. But she wants me to play with my friends and she knows that it helps me to have them around. So we can play at my house or go do fun stuff together just like we always did.

Question: Is your mum going to die?
Answer: Just because she has breast cancer doesn’t mean she’s going to die. Mum’s getting treatments that will probably get rid of the cancer so that she can get better and live for a long time.

Important Information for Mums Who Have Breast Cancer

Talking With Children and Family Members

How you communicate with family members and friends as you are fighting cancer will depend on your relationship with them before you were diagnosed. Some women have very close-knit families that help them every step of the way through their treatment. Others have strained relationships and can only share information with certain people. How you handle family members is up to you; only you know your own comfort level.

Children can bring up very different concerns, and this can be hard for many women. What you tell your children and how you talk about cancer becomes central to your relationship with them. Most of us know children who are inquisitive and unafraid to ask the awkward questions that most adults would not. This behavior tells us that children notice and try to understand many of the complex issues around them. If you have lost your hair, or are feeling bad, children will notice and ask you why. If you look different from other adults they know, or have a physical limitation as a result of your cancer diagnosis, they will ask you about that too.

It may help to know how most children process and understand the idea of cancer, especially when a parent has cancer, and how they cope with this knowledge. The ability of a child to understand your illness and treatment is often based on age.

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.