Talking to Kids About Breast Cancer
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Talking to Kids About Breast Cancer

"My daughter has breast cancer; how do I talk to the grandkids about it?"

Q. "My daughter is being treated for breast cancer, so my grandchildren, 11 and 15, have been spending a lot of time at my house. What can I say to them? We're all afraid she could die. Should I admit to the boys that I'm afraid too, or should I try to be upbeat and positive? Should I have a formal talk with them or just work it into our regular conversations?"

A. Before talking with your grandchildren, talk to your daughter. What has she told her children about her condition and treatment for breast cancer? If she's uncertain as to what to say, call The American Cancer Society at 800-728-1151 for information and suggestions as to how to proceed.

Although it's important to proceed cautiously, try not to be overly concerned about saying exactly what's appropriate to either your daughter or grandchildren. Of course, you want to be thoughtful, but being overly concerned might paralyze you and keep you from doing or saying anything.

Here are some approaches to consider:

  • Give statistics. Although cancer is scary, the statistics speak for themselves and provide a realistic reality check to reference.
  • Admit that you're fearful. Reveal to your grandchildren how much you love their mother. Tell them you wish she didn't have to face this life threatening disease but that you're hopeful for her long term health and well being.
  • Encourage your grandchildren to participate in a breast cancer research fundraising event. Focusing on positive action works wonders for mental health, and it's so much better than wallowing in worry and concern.
  • Ask your grandchildren if they'd like to join or create a support group. Support groups aren't for everyone but for some kids it's the answer to help them through the uncertainty they face.
  • Go ahead and open the door for dialogue with a formal talk. Then, when appropriate, work your daughter's health into everyday conversations. This situation is part of your life and theirs. There's no need to sidestep the topic; doing so negates the truth. While there's no need to bring up the breast cancer topic every time you spend time with your grandchildren, don't be afraid to include it, when fitting, in an ongoing conversation. If you recognize the topic is on your grandchildren's minds, skillfully put their thoughts and feelings into words.
  • Encourage your grandchildren to offer little gestures of love to their mom. While there's no need to go overboard with elaborate gifts, simple acts of love and care will do much for both your daughter and your grandchildren. All it takes is an occasional flower, card, cookie, or framed picture.
  • Keep your grandchildren's lives as normal as possible. Do what you can to see they keep up with their schoolwork, extracurricular activities, social interests, hobbies and household chores. When life seems out of control, the routines and responsibilities of daily living provide consistency and predictability in unfamiliar adverse situations.
  • Stay hopeful yourself and exude faith and confidence to your grandchildren that they have everything necessary to face and make it through the situation they're going through with their mom.
  • Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

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