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How to Talk to Your Kids About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer affects the entire family -- including the kids. Here are some ways to help them cope.

Young children are going to notice the changes that cancer causes in the family's routine, and those changes will define cancer for them, says Kelly Corrigan, author of Last Year, This Year (self-published, available at www.circusofcancer.org), an uplifting children's book about how breast cancer affected one young family for a year. Corrigan was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in August 2004, just days before her oldest daughter turned 3. "Cancer will be that my mom sleeps a lot, and my mom wears pajamas all day, and my grandparents are sleeping over, and people are giving me presents all the time for no reason. There are a lot of perks for a kid," Corrigan says.

The goal is to help children understand what's happening without scaring them.

  • When talking with your children about treatment, Corrigan recommends always using the proper terminology to distinguish your cancer from their colds and sore throats: chemotherapy, drugs (versus medicine), clinic (versus doctor's office), surgeon (versus doctor).
  • It's important to let young children know that your cancer is not their fault and they can't catch it.
  • Do not pretend that nothing is wrong, and do use the same explanation over and over. "Consistency is comforting," Corrigan says.

Ask your children to share their questions and concerns.

  • It's normal for kids of all ages to feel fear, sadness, and anger about your breast cancer, just as you do.
  • Dealing with fear is a life skill you can model for your children.
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