How to talk to kids

Some people are divided about what and when to tell their children about cancer. I am no expert but I will tell you about my thoughts. I was upfront with my children. When I was diagnosed, my youngest child was 8 She knew that I had a tumour and she was informed on every step of the journey. Ashley was young and many told me I shouldn’t go into detail with her, some said don’t tell her just say your sick. I told her outright and I thought this was best as if anything went wrong she would understand and not be left out or feel cheated that she wasn’t told. The first thing she did was decide that we were not going to call the brain tumour that. It had to have a name, so since it was moving she had a theory that if I slept on my left side it would slowly come out of my ear.


Since it was moving it was called Charlotte, after the spider from the book. Telling her made her feel part of everything. She came to some appointments she saw the x-rays and the MRI and all the imaging. She often took them to school to share with the class. This was wonderful, because whenever I went into hospital I would be guaranteed a big hand made card from the entire class.

My other children we older, one was an adult the other two were 12 and 14. They found it easier to understand and again they all took their turns in coming to appointments. Everyone had a say in all that happened. When I started acting erratically, I had another doctor visit and found out more information and shared this with the kids. They needed to understand that these actions weren’t mum, they were Charlotte rearing her ugly head. They understood everything, if they had questions they would ask the doctors as I was in and out of hospital the kids got to know the routine of the hospitals and knew who to ask for everything and anything.

I also think it was important to tell them everything so that they can understand and so that they can seek help. Kids who are facing the possibility of their mum dying at anytime need help, so if you are open and honest they can then in turn seek help for what they are going through. Trust me my kids have been through hell.

They have been there when they were told I wasn’t going to make it. They were there when my bones were fracturing and picking me up off the ground. They had to help me dress and be near when I showered incase I had an accident. They had to clean up the mess. I think that knowing as much as possible helps them deal with it and to help them understand why shit happens.

So in my opinion, tell the children as much as possible let them know every step of the way. Explain all treatments to them and the effects this could have. It makes it easier for them to understand and then it’s not a nasty surprise when things go wrong or when you can’t cope. I would love to hear your opinions on this.

Thank you.


About proudblacksista

An Aboriginal woman. mother of 4 diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour 7 years ago.I want to share my story to help others. I am working to help other Aboriginal people face the battles of Cancer. Email me with your stories or concerns at View all posts by proudblacksista

2 responses to “How to talk to kids

  • Kate Bowles

    My daughters were 8, 12 and 14 when I was diagnosed. We told them everything that we knew, from the moment we knew it.

    My oldest daughter led the pack, but each played a really significant part, and they helped each other. My older daughter came to appointments where there was information to be had, and the older two both came to chemo with me, which I think was a pretty tough time for them. My youngest daughter came to radiation appointments and felt very involved in that. (I didn’t think it was fair to other patients to bring her into the chemo area because primary school kids really are just germ warfare on short legs … ). The big issue for all three of them I think was handling the impact at home of having a very sick parent especially after surgery. Lots of confronting things to deal with in the home.

    When my hair fell out, this also very publicly made them the kids with the cancer mum, in our small community. So they had to deal with that in their own ways, in their own worlds.

    Towards the end of the big year of treatment, my youngest daughter had turned nine. She turned to me one day as we were walking along and said “Mum, when someone else’s family has cancer we’ll know what to do.” And my oldest daughter is now volunteering with the cancer council and giving talks, not on our experience, but on cancer generally.

    Like you, I think we did the right thing to take ourselves through it as a pack. Cancer is tough enough without family secrets and big risks to trust. They know that if I know a thing, they know it.

    I so appreciate your blog Colleen, it really gives me a chance to think through my own experiences, especially in relation to having cancer in the context of family.

    • proudblacksista

      Thank you for sharing that Kate, I know what you mean about the little ones being a walking germ farm, you are like us we found it easier to deal with it as a pack. We stand by each other and help and annoy each other. I feel you about being the kids with the sick mum, my kids had that and they still have it, infact its almost to the point of hasn’t she died yet! But for my kids it was easier for them to deal with it by being involved in it and that way they could understand and ask questions as they thought of them . They also got to know the nurses at the Chemo and spent birthdays there and spread love, cake and germs all over the place, but for some going through treatment they loved it when my kids were there, they said it brightened up the place and made them felt less like lepers.

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