Talking to kids about cancer
Q: My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and she’s going to have to go through a lumpectomy and chemotherapy. The part she’s agonizing over is how and what to tell her 10-year-old daughter. Any advice? — Sharon B., Lincoln, Neb.
A: At age 10, kids understand a lot, so your sister doesn’t have to worry too much about her daughter grasping the basic medical facts. But emotional reactions need careful management, too. That’s why it’s important for your sister to tell her daughter about her diagnosis when everyone is well-rested and comfortable.
First, she needs to explain the basics, such as what cancer is.
Then, she should explain why she’s decided on her course of treatment and mention that she may feel pretty rotten from the treatment sometimes.
Your sister should ask her daughter what questions she has or if she’d like to think about them and talk again later. Then she should keep an eye out for any change in behaviour. And make yourself available to your niece. She might open up to you about concerns she’s reluctant to discuss with her mom. One more thing: your sis should ask her doc about genetic testing; if she was diagnosed before age 40, she may carry an identifiable mutation.
Just so you know, according to the American Cancer Society, if the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the breast or in the lymph nodes (stage one), the five-year relative survival rate is 99 per cent.