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How to Talk With Your Children About Cancer

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Published on January 7, 2020

Key Takeaways

  • Understand who you are dealing with and their emotional composition.
  • Decide your purpose for telling them.
  • Consider each individual and your expectations for including them in the conversation.

How can myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients talk about their condition with family and friends? During this Partners program highlight, patient advocate Beth Probert talks with Patient Power Co-Founder and care partner Esther Schorr about how to tell kids at any age about a cancer diagnosis. Watch as Esther discusses things to consider before sharing, like determining why you are telling them, how much each person can handle and what your expectations are to help tailor the conversation to each individual.

The Partners series is sponsored by Incyte Corporation. This organization has no editorial control. It is produced solely by Patient Power.

Featuring

You're a FANTASTIC resource and I share info with groups online, open up conversations with my oncologist and GP and send links to my adult children to help them understand. You guys are earth Angels.

— Annie, from UK, online MPN meeting attendee

Transcript | How to Talk With Your Children About Cancer

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Esther Schorr:            

I would start by saying every family is different, and how you broach a difficult subject like this—and it’s difficult only because you have the balance between wanting them to be there for support and not freaking them out—is going to depend on do you have anxious children? Do you have kids who have the capacity to support you emotionally?

You know, so I guess my advice would be, first, understand who you’re dealing with. What can an individual child their age, you know, in this case we’re talking about older children, but even adult children. What’s their emotional composition? What can they handle and how would you think they will handle the information best? Because what’s your point in telling them?

If you’re going to tell them because you want them not to feel left out if something where they have to get involved happens, then you have to give them information about what is current, what could happen, and how they can be supportive and answer their questions.

So I think really the advice is if you know your kids, and you know what they can handle as far as what they can do for you in the relationship, whether you’re the care partner who have to tell them or you’re the patient, know why you’re telling them and what you’re expecting back, and that should drive the conversation.

Beth Probert:              

And you know what, like I never even thought of that. Sometimes we’re so quick to bring the family together and share news that’s greatly affecting a family member, but boy, did you bring up a really good point. What is your purpose?

Esther Schorr:            

We have three very different children. They’re all adults now. I can tell you, they all, each of them, handle Andrew’s situation and the impact on family, which knock on wood right now hasn’t been huge, but they all handle the conversations about what’s going on with Dad differently.

And so the conversations we have with each of them are just a little different. We’re all giving them the truth, but how do you—what do you want from them back and how do you—one needs more reassurance that everything is cool, and the other one says, “I’ll kill you if you don’t tell me the truth about what’s going on.”

So I’ll just add that. So it’s really knowing your audience and having the conversations with love.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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