Talk to Me

By Diana Price

When a parent or grandparent is diagnosed with cancer, families often struggle with how to talk with kids about the disease, the treatment, and all the surrounding issues. Decisions about when to share the news, which details to discuss, and how to talk about the future can seem daunting for parents or grandparents dealing with their own concerns and anxiety over the diagnosis. Two new books aim to help families cope with the communication challenges presented by a cancer diagnosis.

Someone I Love Is Sick (The Gathering Place Press, 2009; $21.95), directed at children ages two to six, was created by The Gathering Place, a nonprofit, community-based cancer support center that focuses on the social, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of individuals with cancer and their families and friends. The book’s pages are included in a binder that allows parents to arrange the pages based on where the family is on the cancer journey and to make choices about which topics they want to discuss. The pages are laminated, allowing space for kids to add their own drawings or questions. Specific questions and concerns covered by the colorfully illustrated pages include: “Can I catch cancer?” “Sometimes I feel sad that Mommy/Daddy has cancer,” and “I don’t want to think about cancer when I’m at school.”

Someone I Love Is Sick can be used to facilitate discussions and bring up topics that young kids might be afraid to ask on their own. Families can use the tool in conjunction with the associated Web site,, which provides tips and information for discussing each topic as well as further related resources. Together, this practical printed resource and the online information offer a valuable tool for families facing a cancer diagnosis.

Nana, What’s Cancer? (American Cancer Society, 2009; $14.95), is aimed at kids ages eight to 12 who have questions about a loved one’s cancer. Written by Stage IV breast cancer survivor Beverlye Hyman Fead and her 11-year-old granddaughter, Tessa Mae Hamermesh, the book flows as a comfortable, ongoing conversation that takes place around the duo’s regular activities. Beverlye answers Tessa’s questions as they come up—whether on their way to a movie, while sharing a snack, or as the two travel together. In each case, the dialogue is natural and the answers are informative and comforting. In addition to providing answers to common questions, Nana, What’s Cancer? includes a glossary of cancer-related vocabulary to help educate kids about the disease and its treatment. The book is an excellent resource and an engaging story.

How to Talk to Your Child About Cancer
(From a Child’s Point of View)
By Tessa Mae Hamermesh, co-author, with Beverlye Hyman Fead, of Nana, What’s Cancer?
Telling a child you have cancer can be very hard. Here are some tips to help you through it:
• Always talk to the child yourself about your cancer! Even if you’re not the first person he hears it from, definitely bring it up. It’s important to have an open relationship about it.
• Don’t tell your child things about cancer that may be too scary. You can say different things about it to a 13-year-old than you can to a four-year-old.
• Always tell your child that there is hope!
• Be with your child more! Go to his soccer games and plays, drive him to school or a friend’s house, or take him out for ice cream. This will help your child be less scared. Of course, only do this if you’re up to it. If you’re not, you can invite him to play cards or watch a movie.
• Always be willing to talk about your disease, but don’t force your child to. It’s very important for a child to know that he can talk to you about your sickness. It will help him be less scared.
• Be on a “team” with your neighbors, family, and friends, and encourage your child to do the same. It is important to understand that neither of you are alone, there are people around you who care, it is okay to ask for help, and it can make you feel better to share your worries with others.
Don’t forget to laugh together! This will help you and your child feel happy and strong. When you’re feeling happy and strong, cancer can be a lot less scary.