Fear, uncertainty, anger, guilt, sadness – these are just some of the many strong emotions that cancer can cause. So how do you support a child when they or someone they know is diagnosed with cancer? Talking to your child about cancer and everything that comes with it can be a stressful and difficult thing to do.
Storytelling is a wonderful way to start the conversation in a way that is safe, age-appropriate, and helpful for your child. Whether you are looking to teach them about cancer, help them through their strong emotions or prompt them to open up about how they’re feeling, there is a wide range of books available that can help you.
Through our Book Club program, we have over 80 books that can help you throughout the cancer experience, including books for children, teens, and adults. Our social workers can recommend books specifically for you, and also provide counselling if you or your child would like someone to talk to about how you’re feeling or what’s happening in your lives.
As you start this conversation with your child, remember there’s no such thing as a “normal” reaction or one that’s “like everyone else”. Your child will have their own unique response, or they might have no response at all, which is also okay. Depending on your child’s age, personality, and level of development, their ability to understand what’s happening around them and willingness to express their emotions may play a big part in how they respond.
Our social workers have suggested a few books from our collection that may help your child with their emotions.
0-12 years old
For a diagnosed child
‘I’m Worried’ helps young children with feelings of anxiety and worry they may feel in their early years. From feeling left out when playing with friends to a stay in hospital or seeing other family members worry during anxious times, this book suggests ways that can help children put their worries into perspective.
‘My Scans’ is a simple book for children designed to help children with anxiety associated with scans. This book includes short descriptions of experiences associated with Ultrasounds, PET scans, CT scans, and MRI scans.
‘Starbright’ is a collection of stories that use simple visualizations to help children feel calm, fall asleep, or concentrate better. Maureen Garth created these meditations to help her daughter feel secure and cared for.
For siblings of diagnosed children
Toby knows his elder sister Clemmie is very brave, but when she has to go to the hospital again, they both have to help each other face their fears. Together, they still find ways to have fun and make the hospital a much better place. This story will help encourage children to ease their fears and feel better about spending time in intimidating hospitals.
Young children often experience anxiety when they are separated from their mothers and fathers. This title features a young guinea pig experiencing distress when her mother and father go to work or go on a trip. She learns ways to be comforted, and that they will return.
‘I Feel Jealous’ looks at the emotion jealousy, in a light-hearted but ultimately reassuring way. This book examines how and why people get jealous, illustrates scenarios of people behaving in a jealous way, and the best way to cope with it.
13-18 years old
For a diagnosed teenager
Jake has written this book about his experiences of being diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, as a teenager and going through treatment. Jake speaks very honestly of his experiences, especially the very challenging ones, and it’s an enlightening and inspirational story of what Jake has learned from having cancer.
For siblings of diagnosed children
Tess is a junior in high school, she is the smart one and feels very different to her older sister Kristina, who is beautiful, athletic and popular. Then Kristina is diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly Tess has to navigate friendships, family relationships, being a teenager, and all the increased attention from the other students at school, while feeling like her family is falling apart and her sister is seriously ill. This is an excellent novel describing a girl’s experience of being the sibling to a young person with cancer.
Thirteen-year-old Steven has a totally normal life: he plays drums in the All-Star Jazz band, has a crush on the hottest girl in the school, and is constantly annoyed by his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey. But when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven’s world is turned upside down. He is forced to deal with his brother’s illness and his parents’ attempts to keep the family in one piece. Salted with humour and peppered with devastating realities, Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie is a heartwarming journey through a year in the life of a family in crisis.
Redkite supports children, families and communities affected by childhood cancer. If you are connected to a child aged 0-18 who has been diagnosed with cancer, you can access our Book Club and our child and adult counselling services for free.