Just days into the new year this past January, my wife was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I can remember vividly sitting in the car with her trying to figure out what was happening next in our lives. We were lucky. We had friends who were oncologists who were able to explain the biopsy results to us. We had a proactive OB/GYN who had already arranged for an appointment with a breast surgeon for the following morning.
And our luck has continued. My wife has responded incredibly well to each phase of treatment. We’re surrounded by a warm and caring community that has dropped off meals, taken our kids for playdates, and offered hugs and comfort when the stress threatened to overcome our resilience.
It’s strange, but it some ways, the medical treatments and the endless doctors’ visits have been the easier parts of this to handle. My wife is an incredibly strong woman who has refused to let this diagnosis define or beat her. The more challenging piece has been the redefinition of our home life and helping our children understand what it means that mommy has breast cancer.
There is no absolute right or wrong way to talk to your kids about a cancer diagnosis in a loved one, whether it is a parent, grandparent, or someone else. The challenge is to meet your children where they are, provide the information that makes sense to them, and listen to them as they process it all. And be prepared to have that conversation again and again, as well as having them completely forget that mom or dad has cancer.
From reading about cancer, as a dad and as a psychologist, I’ve learned a few things that can be helpful:
- Be open – hiding what’s going on can make things harder.
- Use age-appropriate language – lose the medical jargon
- Share information and facts
- Show hopefulness and love even when there are challenges with prognosis
- Allow your child space to identify and share negative and positive feelings
I’ve collected some of the resources that have helped my wife and me through this journey here. My hope is that some of these might help smooth the journey for another family.
The image above is a creation from a talented friend of ours who created one for my wife at the start of her journey.