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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Cancer as a Parent and Support for Children

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is difficult, and for those with children, concern for how this will impact their children can be an added layer of concern. This month, we are launching #PinkKids, a resource to support kids and teens whose parents have been diagnosed with breast cancer or have passed away because of breast cancer. This initiative was started by the incredible Kyla Thompson who lost her own mom to metastatic breast cancer. You can listen to her story about losing a parent to breast cancer in our podcast conversation. As part of our MBC Sunday Webinar series, we broach these topics (and more)! Download the PDF on anticipatory grief and listen to part I and part II of our podcast on how these moms explain breast cancer to their children, and then the questions that still linger from a child's perspective. In the articles below, we share resources on how to talk to your children about your breast cancer diagnosis, which may differ depending on their age, and how to provide the emotional support they need during such a challenging time for the whole family.

"Cancer affects the entire family.

But the emotional and psychosocial impact on a child whose parent has cancer often goes unnoticed and unattended. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 1.7 million adults will be diagnosed with cancer in 2016. That leaves 749,000 children under the age of 18 years old who will be affected this year. It is estimated that nearly 3 million children under the age of 18 are currently living with the challenge of coping with a parent who has cancer."


In this article from Healthline, parents and grandparents who have or have had cancer share how their families have navigated the added stress and worry on children that a cancer diagnosis brings. Read More.


"For a parent, talking to children about their cancer may be the only thing more difficult than facing their own diagnosis. But open and honest communication about cancer’s impact can help everyone cope better."

"Providing young people with information – including diagnosis, medical tests, treatment, side effects, likely outcomes and chances of recovery – in a family environment that fosters open communication is one way parents can support their children."


Explore for more tips on how to talk to teen and young adult children about your cancer diagnosis. Read More.


"Just trying to be a parent can be tough as well. 'This may be the result of your body being exhausted from treatment or wanting to make sure they your child have an enjoyable time with you,' says Erlanger Turner, a licensed psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles. Some parenting styles also change, he notes, and parents become more laid back. But it is still important for parents to discipline their child for inappropriate behavior or breaking rules.'"

Turner also states, "Children may exhibit different behavior to cope with their parent’s cancer such as anxiety, anger, or behavioral problems at school."


Working with a licensed mental health professional may help you and your family cope with your diagnosis and improve your relationship with your child. Read More.


"Children are able to sense when their parents are stressed or something is wrong, although young children might not be able to verbalize it. Unless your child is an infant, it may be best to bring up the subject before they invent their own completely misguided story about why Mommy is acting differently."


This article provides advice on how to explain your diagnosis, treatment, and what this change means for your child, all in an age-appropriate way.

"Conversations about treatment should continue after the initial conversation. Providing too much information at once, especially to younger children, will not be effective. However, as expected side effects are about to happen, it is important to tell your child so that they are not surprised at hearing Mommy vomit or seeing her hair fall out. Tell the child that even though Mommy seems sicker, it is actually part of getting better. Tell your child that cancer is not contagious and that we don’t know why some people get it, but the child had nothing to do with it." Read More.

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