When someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer, an early thought is often about what to tell the children. It can be difficult to think about what words to say and how to pitch the discussion about cancer to the right age group and level of understanding. And it can be hard to know how they will respond.
Children’s understanding and emotional reactions can depend on how old they are. They are usually able to understand more about illness as they get older, but this depends on the child. Depending on your situation and your needs, and the needs of your children, there is a range of information and support services available to you.
Macmillan offers comprehensive advice about how to talk to children and teenagers about cancer, as well as guidance to understand and support their reactions. It is also worth investigating communications toolkits such as those designed by the Fruitfly Collective for children, or young people, who are affected by their parents being diagnosed with cancer. Known as Cancer Cloud Kits, each kit contains an age-appropriate set of tools designed to help children or young people to understand what cancer is, the treatments given, and the side-effects they may cause. They also offer ideas to help improve communication within the family, practical tools to help manage changes in the family’s routine, and tools that explore the emotional impact a cancer diagnosis brings.
There are also online support services available for children who wish to learn more under their own steam or connect and share experiences with others in a safe and monitored environment. For example, Hope Support Services offer online support across the country for young people aged 11 – 25 with a close family member diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, such as cancer. And if the worst happens, Winston’s Wish is a charity offering bereavement support for children and young people after a death of a parent or sibling. Their services include a free national helpline and online chat services, as well as face-to-face support.
It often helps to meet others going through a similar experience, in a safe and supportive environment, so do check Cancer Care Map to see what support groups and activities are available in your areas that are suitable for children and families. For example, Croydon-based Duffus Cancer Foundation provides a local and accessible support service for children and young people aged 8-17 years of age, who have experienced emotional hardship, such as having a loved one with cancer. DCF provide two types of programmes: the ‘Right Track’ and ‘Your Space’, designed to provide young people with strategies to increase resilience and overall wellbeing, along with fun activities, advice and guidance.
Additionally, it’s worth checking your local Maggie’s Centre as they offer Kids Days and Teen Days from time to time for young people who have a parent with cancer. These sessions provide a space in which young people can explore their concerns, meet others in the same situation and find out more about what is happening to their mum or dad.
As ever, we are always happy to hear from you and love it when you tell us about any other new services you have discovered, so do get in touch.