by CanTeen07/12/2018

How to Explain What Cancer is to Your Child When Your Partner Has It

How you explain what cancer is and the type of information you give your child will depend on their age, how much they can understand and what they want to know. But the best advice is to keep it simple and straightforward.  

Start with questions 

Start by asking what they know or have heard about cancer. Children, especially younger children, may have misperceptions about what causes cancer or think that everyone who gets cancer will die or that you can catch cancer. 

Be clear and keep it simple 

When telling your child about your partner’s cancer, be clear about: 

  • the name of the cancer 
  • the part of the body affected, and  
  • how it will be treated.  

Some key points to explain about cancer are that: 

  • It is a disease of the cells. 
  • There are hundreds of different types of cancer. 
  • There are different treatments for each type. 
  • Each cancer and its treatment is different because every person is different. 
  • Adjusting to life with cancer can be tough – both for the person diagnosed with cancer, and their families and friends. 

 Direct them to age-appropriate information 

Try not to overwhelm your child with too much information at once. You can always give them more detail later if they are interested, or direct them to information written for children or young people who have a parent with cancer, like CanTeen’s website and e-books.  

The glossary in Cancer Council’s “How to talk to kids about cancer” booklet is useful if you need to explain cancer terms to your child. 

More advice/support 

Cancer Council’s booklet Talking to Kids About Cancerincludes advice on talking to children/young people of different ages about cancer.  

Useful sites/resources 

> There is information about cancer types written for teenagers and young adults on CanTeen’s website

> Camp Quality’s Kids’ Guide to Cancer app is for children aged 8-13 who have a parent, sibling, friend, or loved one with cancer and answers common questions about cancer and includes stories from other children affected by cancer.