Telling Children about your Cancer

My wife and I both had parents who had, at one time or another, been faced with a serious medical situation. How they chose to tell us, as their children, had a strong influence on how we would decide to tell our children about their father having cancer. I wanted to tell them immediately and honestly. We were not going to make it a panic situation, but we were going to tell them the truth about what was going on.

Friday night our daughter was to have our undivided attention while she regaled us with stories of her conference. We would not tell her Friday. She we would tell on Saturday.

Our two boys were away at college. As much as I would have loved to have them come home, I was not going to ask them to do so. It was not necessary, yet. My wife and I were running an errand on Friday, getting dinner. On the way home, early Friday evening, I decided we should tell the boys then. I did not want to wait until the end of the weekend, I wanted them to have the weekend to think about it and have the opportunity to ask us questions. I did not want to wait until Sunday evening; what if they had a test Monday morning?

So we sat in the driveway on Friday evening and called both boys. We decided my wife would tell them and then I would get on the phone with them. If I were to tell them it would just be too emotional for me. My wife strongly suggested to me that when I got on the phone with each of them I was to be positive and not get all upset. Now was not the time for that. We had to give them time to process it.

I do not remember who we called first, only that we reached each one on the first call. That was amazing in and of itself. We spoke with them both and told them mater of factually what was going on and what was going to happen. It was not an easy conversation and we tried to leave them reassured. They would have the whole weekend to think about it, talk to their friends or come home.

Telling them at this point was important. We did not want to wait until I was out of surgery and we knew what was what (that is one method we experienced as college students). We wanted them to be a part of this the entire journey. We did not know how everything was going to turn out, it was all so new and there was a lot of information we did not have. But we did not want to have all the answers before telling them. I also needed them to be a part of this experience. The worst case scenario meant I would die and not be a part of their lives. I did not want their memory of me to be that I did not want them to be part of what was, at that point, the most important event in my life.

The conversation with each went well, no one (i.e. me) cried. I have no idea what they did that night, how they handled it, with whom they talked or what they thought. But I do know they were included in what was going on in my life from the beginning.

The next morning we told our daughter. The night before she had her time to tell us all about her week at the conference. We had listened and asked her questions and found out all about what happened. But now it was our time to speak with her. We told her the reason her mother was late picking her up on Thursday was because of my doctor’s appointment. Then we told her why it took so long. Your daddy has cancer and will be having surgery and it will take it out. My daughter is usually quite verbose and able to share what is on her mind, even if you don’t want to hear it. She did not say a lot. She also did not get emotional in any way. It was kind of like she was just taking it in.

Even though I wanted my children to know what was going on because I did not want to exclude them from something so significant. It was important to keep them involved. But I also told them because I needed them to know. It was important to me that they know. It was one source of support for me. I knew I could talk with them about it and talking about such things is critical for healing. For my healing and, if I did not recover, for their healing.



Good Read

Being diagnosed with cancer can make a person reflective on life in general, priorities, mortality, legacy. I will discuss those topics in the future.

I did read an excellent book that helped me put things in perspective. I highly recommend it and think families would benefit from reading and discussing it.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

He is a doctor who has dealt with the death of his patients as well as the death of his father. This very sensitive book will change how you look at life, family, and the fact you will, one day, die.