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How I Told My Kids I Have Cancer

How I Told My Kids I Have Cancer

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but sometimes life gives us little choice in the matter. Circle of Moms member Michelle S., who was recently diagnosed with stage three colon and bowel cancer, is struggling with how to tell her 11 children about her disease.

"I haven’t told the kids yet — will do it soon — just have to get my head around it all," Michelle shares, just after coming home from the doctor. "How do I tell my family — ages 23, 20, 18, 14, nine, six, five, four, three, two and one?" she asks.

Without a doubt, both sharing such scary news and fighting cancer are particularly devastating for a parent who still has children at home. Here, five Circle of Moms members who are surviving with cancer share inspiring wisdom on how best to break the news to your kids — and on coping with illness as a mom.

1. Build a Support Group

Tammye L. faced the same dilemma not long ago. She told her family members quickly, starting with the ones who would be the foundation of the support group that she needed and relied so much on.

Similarly, when Teri was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006, she relied on her family members for physical and emotional support. That meant she first had to gather her husband, siblings, and her children at their aunt’s house to tell them about her diagnosis all at once.

The conversation was difficult, says Teri, because she is known as "the fun mom" in her extended family, the one who plans all the parties and buys most of the gifts. She hated the idea that she was suddenly bringing sadness to her family.


However, gathering all the family and friends together at the same time is a smart idea because it reduces the need to rehash the dreaded details over and over again with different family members at different times and on different days.

Moreover, by being honest with her friends and family instead of hiding her diagnosis, Teri says she “had people praying for [her] from the USA all the way to Pakistan and every state and country in between, and in three different religions!”

2. Consider Your Child’s Personality and Maturity

When moms are sick, children can tell that something is wrong. That’s why it’s important to be honest with them about a diagnosis and to talk to them in words that they’ll understand.

Mom Yvette B. says that when her doctor told her she had cancer on Dec. 24, 2007, her five children ranged in age from 18 to 28. She explained her diagnosis first with her older children and then her younger children because younger children look up to older siblings. Telling her older children first reassured Yvette that the younger children would have their elder siblings to help them if she was unavailable.

Teri says she should have considered her children’s personality and maturity, as well as age, before sharing too many details about having lung cancer. At the time she was diagnosed in 2006, Teri’s children were ages four, 10 and 14. The youngest didn't understand what cancer is, but took from the talk that her mom was going to die. "She had a very hard time thinking that her mom was going to die, and she obsessed about it," Teri says.

Teri adds that she initially thought her older children would be more concerned about mom because they had a clearer understanding of what cancer is. "They were worried, but not obsessed," she says. Yet to this day, even after Teri has received a clean bill of health, she says her youngest daughter still worries the most every time she goes to the doctor and needs constant reassurance that her mom is okay.


"I wish I had better information on how to talk with your child," says Cibby R., who six years ago was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, which has now spread to her brain. "But you know your child best … They all have different reactions, they all have different personalities. Only you know what is right for you and your child," she says.

Now that she’s had the initial conversation, Cibby tries not to talk about her illness when she's with her children. They know they can ask her anything if they have questions, she says.

3. Make Memories

Cibby also suggests creating notes and memory books with your kids to help them understand the disease, and to remember mom's love. "With pictures, your child can remember you and know what a strong and beautiful woman you are. Especially if you know your time with your children will be shortened," she says.

That means even when she doesn’t feel like getting out of bed, Cibby pulls herself together and makes sure she talks to each one of her boys to check on them and see if things are going as well as they can. "Every small memory adds up to a huge one. It is hard to put on a brave face, but I make it through each day, letting my children know how much I love them," — advice that applies to parenting even if you're not braving an illness.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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