My son was in college and my daughter was a college graduate when I was diagnosed but my husband and I were still worried about the effect my disease would have on them. That is the reason why when I started reading the book I decided to start in the back of the book and read Appendix C - The Parent's Guide first. As I read the section I thought to myself - yup that is what I would do or I've heard other survivors say that is how they told their teen. Great advice for parents. Then it was time to get into the meat of the book. My favorite chapters were Cancer 101 , Parentification, Dealing with Stress, Facing a Dire Prognosis and The New Normal: Life After Cancer. The book is filled with advice and stories from teens to teens. And for those who are looking for some advice from professionals ( social workers/ therapists/ teachers) you will find helpful tips nestled into each chapter. I highly recommend this book for parents and teens and I hope you enjoy this guest post by Marc and Maya Silver.
How to Have the First Cancer Talk with Your Teen
You think it’s hard talking about the birds and the bees? That’s nothing compared to the c-word: cancer.
You can delay the first talk a little bit. But just a little bit. Maybe you want to get your information together. My wife and I found out on a Friday and waited until the following Tuesday, after a visit to the surgeon, so we could have more information to pass on. Since it was the weekend before the school year started, we didn’t want to add to the kids’ anxiety over the first day of classes. And to be honest, we needed a little time to face our own fears and emotions before sharing the news.
But tell them we did, in the car, when we picked them up from school. We gave it to them straight: Mom has breast cancer, that will definitely mean surgery and probably chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and we’ll tell you what’s going on as we find out more. But it wasn’t easy. We were both holding back tears.
As we wrote our guide for teens, My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks, we asked many experts: How do you have that first talk? Here’s some of the advice they shared.
You can’t put it better than psychologist Richard Ogden, whose wife was diagnosed with breast cancer: “Our guiding principle was to say it clearly and straightforwardly, without hedging, without trying to whitewash. To say what we know, to say it simply. The tightrope is between giving the information we feel needs to be given and not giving more information than is necessary.”
So if you’re waiting for certain test results and feeling a bit anxious, you don’t need to share all that with the kids. Wait until you get the results, then let them know what’s up.
How do you know if you gave the right amount of info? Ask the kids after a day or so: Did we answer all your questions? Do you have any new questions? They might ask a tough medical question. If you don’t know the answer, you can say, “That’s a good one. I’m going to ask the doctor for the answer on my next visit. Or the question might be: “Who’s going to take me to soccer practice?” And that’s a perfectly reasonable teen question, because teens are very wrapped up in their own world (kind of like adults). You might say: We can still manage it. Or: Let me check with a teammate’s parent to be a back-up driver just in case.
Above all, honesty is indeed the best policy. “My children have told me over the years the thing that helped them most was that I was always honest,” says physician Wendy Harpham, who was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1990 and has had seven recurrences. “They never worried: Is there something else going on, is she telling me the whole story?”
If you’re the kind of family that has family meetings regularly, then you call a meeting. If you’re a family that never has meetings, your kids might be weirded out if you announce that for the first time, you’re about to have an Important Familiar Confab in two hours. You might try using a family meal, or just call the kids together for a quick chat.
The car is also a good place to share news – no one can leave the premises and you don’t have to look each other in the eye, so conversation can flow.
Some families combined the bad news with an upbeat activity. After Tyler’s parents told him mom had breast cancer, Tyler recalls, “We started freaking out a little. To cheer everyone up, we just started to play a bunch of games.” Allison, 13, of Idaho, recalls: “They took me to Barnes & Noble and bought me a stuffed-animal deer and we sat down at Starbucks and they gave me cheesecake and they told me.” That’s a way of letting the kids know that life goes on, even after a cancer diagnosis, and you can still have fun as a family in spite of cancer.
I hope you enjoyed this post and will find time to read the entire book.
Every Day is a Blessing