“So sometimes she’d get sick and that kind of made me worried. Like, ‘Oh,
it’s getting worse,’ you know. I knew she was taking the pills, but I didn’t know.
I thought that was supposed to make her better. And then when she got nauseous
because of it, you know, it kind of made me worry.” (12 year old son)


Many of us believe we can guess what a child thinks about and wants to know when someone in their family has cancer. However, many children have worries and concerns that come as a big surprise to their parents. A child may be unsure about whether it is OK to talk about the cancer. As one 8 year old boy put it, “Well, I was kind of nervous that she might get mad at me for asking her something about the cancer.”

Younger children especially may not have the articulation skills to ask questions or verbalize their worries. This can result in the child creating a “fantasy” about what is happening and what will happen, that is far more frightening than reality. The words of this 12 year old girl underscore this fear, “I wondered if it would end up the same as what happened with my grandma-if (my mother) would die.”

Parents with cancer face many challenges, not the least of which is trying to talk to their school-age child about the cancer. Parents want to be open and honest about the cancer, but don’t want to scare their child. They work to find the balance between truthfulness and hope. This is often difficult to do when the parent is juggling doctor appointments, treatment side effects like fatigue and nausea and their own emotional responses to what is happening to them.

Cancer Lifeline’s Kids’ and Parents’ Group provides children and parents with an opportunity to get support and assistance when a parent has cancer. Kids talk about their experiences through sharing circles, art projects, and puppetry. They also learn ways to take care of themselves. Essentially, kids have a safe place to talk about their feelings, they feel less isolated, enhance their coping skills and increase their understanding of the illness, its causes and treatment.

The concurrent group for adults, the Parents’ Group, provides an opportunity to talk about the challenges of parenting a child when a family member is ill and to share the experience with other adults having a similar experience. Additionally, parents learn skills to help them to respond to their child’s expressed concerns and worries as well as changes in their child’s behavior. A mom who had attended the group had this to say about the benefit to her, “I told my kids all about my upcoming surgery, and it went really well! It went much better than I thought it would. And I owe it all to all of you.”

Please contact Mary Ellen Shands at (206) 832-1279 to reserve your place for our upcoming Kids’ and Parents’ Group.

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