How to Talk to Your Children about Your Breast Cancer Diagnosis

What should I tell my children about my breast cancer diagnosis?

breast cancer diagnosisChildren have an amazing way of picking up on things. They can tell when something is troubling their parents. It may be difficult, but Dr. Gail Saltz thinks it is important to keep your kids informed about your breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Children may sense something is troubling you and if you don’t let them know, they may think the problem is much greater than it is. Make sure to tell them in a non-alarming way, but be honest with them. It may be helpful to ask your oncologist, or even a mental health professional about what you can speak to your children about. Uncertainty about the future can make talking with children difficult, but giving them some initial reassurance can go a long way.

Video Transcript
Gail Saltz, MD: When you get a breast cancer diagnosis and you have children, one of the first things that concerns you is how will you talk to your children about this, should you talk to your children about this? And what I would say is generally speaking when you have a pretty good idea of what is going on before you head into treatment, it is important to help your children understand what’s going to go on. You want to do it, obviously, in as non-alarming a way as you can, but being truthful enough that you are not going to be hiding something.

Kids have amazing radar, they will know that something is going on and when you have told them nothing, they often imagine even worse than the reality is. So, sit down, often I think it is helpful to sit down with your oncologist, if need be with a mental health professional and talk about what can you explain to the children that will be understandable to them, that will not be overly alarming to them, but that will help them understand that for some period of time, you may not be feeling well and yes you do have a diagnosis of breast cancer.

I think this is something that spouses need to agree upon, find an agreement before you sit down and talk to the kids, but I think it is important to let children know in a way that is, you know, not frightening about the future but this is what it is and you are taking care of it, you are going to do these treatments and, you know, things will be basically okay. Obviously, no one can know 100% what’s going to be and what’s not and that’s what makes it difficult to talk to children, but I think giving them initial reassurance is very, very reasonable and updating as you need to go.

Gail Saltz
Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst ,columnist, bestselling author, and television commentator Gail Saltz, M.D., has been called “a voice of wisdom and insight in a world of confusionand contradictions” by Tom Brokaw. Dr. Saltz is a regular mental health, sex, and relationship contributor to the Today show. In addition, she writes a blog entitled “Uncommon Sense” for Psychology Today and is the relationship expert for Grandparents.com.