How to Talk to Your Child About Breast Cancer - Pre-Teen through Young Adult
The responses of older children to their mothers diagnosis of breast cancer are highly variable. Almost all children feel some anger, fear, a sense of unfairness, loss and insecurity.
For some, the whole thing is too overwhelming, and they will choose to deal with it by trying to ignore it. They may show little or no emotion and will appear to go about their activities as if nothing happened. This may be hard for you because they seem very unfeeling toward you.
Some will share your sadness openly, but others will keep their sadness to themselves or share it only with their friends or other relatives. Being angry, argumentative and distant are also common responses. It is important for the parent to not be punitive, but meet the adolescent's defiance with firmness and understanding. Do not withdraw from them or retaliate. Even though your teenage may appear not to care, in fact they really do, but are trying to make sure (through testing this out) that their mother is still strong and there.
How to respond to your teen or young adult
Regardless of the response, acknowledge that cancer is difficult to deal with, offer to answer questions, and be supportive. Suggest that they might want to share their feelings with some other person(s). Suggest speaking with an adult relative, teacher, coach, school nurse, pediatrician or one of their peers, but let them choose who and let them regulate their closeness or distance from you and from cancer.
Be sure they understand that neither they, nor anyone else, caused you to have cancer. Encourage activities that might help them vent anger and frustration safely such as shoot-the-object computer games, shooting baskets or playing other sports. Provide for family time together, every day if possible. As soon as you are able, do your favorite family activities together. Parents should not ask an adolecent to be the emotional support for a younger child or to take the mother's place.
Try to be honest with your children, but don't force more information on them than they are ready to handle. Sometimes leaving age-appropriate information out on the counter for them will let them get information at a time and in amounts that they can handle. Let them know it is there for them to read if they want to and that you want to be sure they get answers to any questions that they might have.
It is often a good idea to have a family discussion of your cancer. During this time, you could go over some of the basic information regarding breast cancer. It is a good time to share mutual feelings. You may want to discuss the data on your own case with your children. Be optimistic. Be sure your children know what is being planned for you in the near future (therapy) and how that will effect your life (examples are side effects like fatigue or possible loss of hair) and most importantly, how it might effect their lives. However, one should strive to interrupt their life style and activities as little as possible.
Stress makes it difficult to concentrate. If your child's school work is deteriorating, make the teacher aware of the situation at home so that the teacher can provide extra help and support for your child.
Teenagers, especially daughters, are very image conscious. Aspects of your therapy may embarrass them, especially in the presence of their friends. These include baldness, going without a prosthesis, or even such a minor thing as not having your "breasts" perfectly even when going out in public. Try discussing these things openly with your children and come to some agreement about what is acceptable to both of you in the presence of their friends or when out in public with them. Also, although you and other close adults may use a little humor as a way to deal with your situation, some teenagers find this very disturbing. They may view it as "gross" or disgusting and not see it as a way of coping and adjusting. For others, joking may open the door for communication.