Dear Barb—The Big C for Children

Dear Barb:

Hi, I am the mother of two children aged eight and ten.  Recently our family received some devastating news; my father has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  He was referred to the cancer clinic and his oncologist confirmed that the type of cancer he has is not curable, although with treatment dad could survive up to a year.  Since I am a single mother my parents have both been a big part of my children’s lives.  My Dad has also stepped in and carried out the role of father to my children.  We are all devastated by dad’s diagnosis, especially mom, as dad has always been her rock. 

I have not told my kids yet, although they have been noticing grandpa has been coughing a lot and have asked me if he is sick.  Mom and I do not know how to tell the kids, or even what to say to them.  While I was in the clinic with my mom I noticed there was a post about a program for kids who are dealing with cancer, I was thinking of looking into something like that.  Do you have any recommendations on how would be the best way to prepare my children for such a devastating event?  Thanks, Ashley.

Hello Ashley:

I am so sorry to hear about your unfortunate news.  You are obviously a very caring and loving mother and I am sure your support will get your children through this sad event in their lives.  Along with preparing your children, you also must care for yourself, as well as your mother.  It will no doubt be a difficult situation, but one that we all face one day.

There are many ways that you can prepare your children for the loss of their grandfather, but right now that does not have to be the predominant thought in their minds.  They can still enjoy their time with grandpa.  As your father begins to decline, be open to talking to your children about how they are feeling.  Grandpa’s failing health may scare them, so you need to reassure them that grandpa appreciates their visits.  Talk to the children about their concerns for the future and reassure them that the doctors are managing any pain that grandpa is experiencing.  If the children are feeling angry, talk to them about their feelings, encourage them to express their fears and anger.  Share with the children that you are also feeling these same feelings and that you will get through this together.

Most cancer clinic offer programs to help children deal with the death of a close family member, and often include a visit through the clinic to prepare them for what they may see as their loved one approaches death.  I would suggest you discuss your concerns with a social worker, who can direct you to these programs.  Again so sorry your family is going through this, but I am confident you will all pull together and get through this.  Thanks for writing in Ashley.

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