Cancer is the hardest thing that I have ever needed to explain to my kids. Probably because we struggle to understand it ourselves. The truth is that I have a hard time understanding it myself. Despite a million amazing advances in cancer care and treatment (which I am thankful for on a regular basis), we really don’t understand it, why it happens, and who it will affect. Take a listen to this recent Freakonomics episode about treating cancer and you will get a sense of what I mean.
And, it will impact almost everyone at one point or another. Either directly, as it did in my family, or indirectly. When faced with something that you as an adult are challenged to understand, you need help and support. In particular, you need a way to talk about it to kids, something that I discovered, I struggled with as our battle was so close to home.
I Have a Question about Cancer
Enter Meredith Englander Polsky and Arlen Grad Gaines and their incredible series of books, I Have a Question. These books tackle three difficult topics, cancer, death, and divorce, in clear, careful language. The books use straightforward language and simple illustrations in a question-and-answer format to help children (and adults) understand what is going on around them.
The format makes so much sense because this is so often how our kids approach things that they don’t understand – with a question. Yet, with a topic like cancer, it can be hard to formulate the question because our (both the child and parent) emotions are getting in the way. Plus, cancer is a complicated topic and we might not even know what questions to be asking.
The books were written with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other special needs in mind, but are approachable and engaging for all children. The simple illustrations are engaging without being distracting and they cover key questions like, “Can I catch cancer?” and “What will it feel like to love someone with cancer?”
Perhaps, most importantly, is that the book is designed to open doors to talk about a tough topic. Englander and Gaines include a brief set of suggestions for parents and caregivers to help navigate the book and the conversations that will follow.
While I Have a Question about Cancer does not include all of the answers we might want to hear about cancer, its causes, and its treatments, it does provide a helpful and engaging way to have a developmentally appropriate conversation with the children impacted by a love one’s cancer diagnosis.