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Resources

Telling people your child has cancer

Talking about cancer can be daunting. You may have fears about how people will react, and voicing it can make it feel more real somehow.

Talking about cancer can be daunting. You may have fears about how people will react, and voicing it can make it feel more real somehow. Getting those words out can be really tough. 

The first thing to know is that your hospital social worker and the Redkite support team are here to help you through these conversations.

“Take it one day at a time. Allow others to help you. They want to and you need it. Breathe, Most importantly, just breathe”

It’s up to you to decide who needs to know. You might decide based on who can support you best at the time. For example, you might want to tell close family so they can support you emotionally, or to tell neighbours or close friends so they can help by looking after siblings. Or you might need to let some people, such as work colleagues, know for practical reasons.

Knowing what to say to people can be the hardest part. You may be wondering how much to say, and how to find the right words when you feel confused yourself. Writing things down first can help with this. Think about:

  • What information you want to share
  • Which questions you might get asked
  • What help you want from the people you’re telling
  • Remember you only need to share as much as you’re comfortable with.

Remember, you don’t have to always be the person to share the news. You can ask a family member or close friend to be the person who tells people or answers questions, so you don’t feel like you have to support others.

Of course, you can also ask your medical team or social worker to explain the details to your family, and again the Redkite support team can talk you through ways to manage this.

This can be a very different conversation. While you might be worried about protecting your other children, most will know something is wrong. If they aren’t told enough, they can often imagine something worse than the truth.

Some common feelings siblings might include:

  • Being scared or worried for their sibling
  • Feeling guilty that they are healthy
  • Thinking they caused their sibling’s cancer
  • Anger at how their lives have been changed
  • Acting out or attention-seeking behaviour
  • Wanting to help but not knowing how
  • Jealousy, especially if their diagnosed sibling is showered with gifts and concern

You can support your other children by giving them as much easy-to-understand information as possible – Redkite’s book club is a good place to start. Let them know who to go to if they need extra support, because it might be hard for you to spend the time with them that they want or need. That person could be a family member, or even a trusted friend.

  • Including them in meetings with the medical team or family discussions
  • Talking to them and asking how they’re feeling or if they have questions
  • Making sure they know who will be looking after them
  • Trying to maintain their normal routine and activities as much as possible
  • Finding a trusted person they can talk with, like a family member, friend or counsellor

If you need time off work to attend appointments or stay at the hospital, you may need to tell your employer. What and how much you tell them is up to you, but as a general rule, the more people know, the more they may be able to support you.

It’s important to keep your child’s school informed, particularly if they have siblings there who might need extra support.

Unfortunately, not everyone responds to the news of a cancer diagnosis in the best possible way. You might be surprised (or even horrified) by some of the reactions you experience. Despite being well-meaning, lots of people get it very wrong.

At the same time, there’s a good chance there will also be people who will know the right thing to say, even if that’s simply acknowledging, “I don’t know what to say”. And while some family and friends may not react as well as you would like at first, they can still end up being great supporters.

Once again, our support team can talk to you about having these conversations, and any emotions they might bring up.

The shock, at first, is surreal and you feel like you’re in a nightmare. But, soon you learn to trust the professionals around you. Ask lots of questions as knowledge is powerful. Then just take one day at a time. Don’t plan ahead because things change almost daily. Try to make memories and provide plenty of love and smiles. The strength that you and your child find within will amaze you. And finally, take care of yourself as well as your child.
A mother when she learned her child had cancer

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A list of childhood cancer support services in Australia

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