Parents who are diagnosed with mesothelioma often have complex thoughts about how to best tell children that the parent has been diagnosed with mesothelioma. If a parent knows that they will not be around much longer, many understandably want to prepare their child for this loss.
Sitting down with a child and engaging in these conversations is a particularly painful process, though. Despite how difficult and heart-wrenching it is to tell a child about terminal cancer, many people have strong family bonds and feel the best way to survive this difficult situation is to do it in unity.
If you have mesothelioma, you are the individual most directly impacted by cancer in your family. Your loved ones also face a big burden, though. Fortunately, some helpful tips can make it much easier to discuss mesothelioma with your children.
Why You Should Discuss a Mesothelioma Diagnosis With Your Child
Immediately following a mesothelioma diagnosis, many adults struggle with deciding whether or not to discuss the situation with their child. Many parents feel that revealing these details will place an unnecessary and substantial burden on the child. Impacted families as well as medical professionals agree that in actuality, it’s a good idea to inform your child about a mesothelioma diagnosis as soon as is reasonable for several reasons, which include:
- The child will sense it. Children of all ages are highly observant and have the capacity to notice that something is wrong. Sometimes, the imagination of children can even come up with more frightening situations than what is true. Speaking with your child and directly answering any questions they might have is the best way to position your situation in a positive framework.
- It might feel taboo. The odds are high that whether it’s from you or another person, your child will discover your situation. If you’re yet to discuss your illness with your child, it will seem secretive and like you are trying to protect your child. In turn, this will only make your child more afraid about what a diagnosis of mesothelioma means and how much it might disrupt the child’s life.
- Trust could be damaged. Not speaking openly with your children can damage their trust in what you say as well as your capacity to help both you and your child cope with this new situation.
Some parents decide that they will review their diagnosis with their children as soon as they can to avoid experiencing any confused feelings. Other parents find that it is more valuable that they thoroughly appreciate their own illness and plan of treatment before they discuss the matter with their children.
Deciding When to Discuss Your Diagnosis With Your Children
Whatever option you and your loved ones end up picking, there are some helpful questions that you should ask yourself to decide what the right time to discuss your diagnosis is. Some of these questions include:
- Do you feel ready? Instead of jumping into such a nuanced conversation with your child cold, it can prove helpful to write down the topics you want to address. This way you can make sure that you are attentive to any questions your child asks. You could also practice having the conversation with your significant other, a friend, or even your doctor. It is impossible to anticipate how your child will react as well as what questions they might ask. Remember, it’s completely okay and understandable that you might not know how to answer everything your child asks. In these situations, the best approach is to tell your child that you do not know the answer right now but that you will let them know when you find out the answer.
- How are you handling things? After divesting a great deal of mental energy on thinking about your children and how they will handle this situation, it’s understandable that you might overlook how you are feeling. While you should not hide your emotions from your children, it’s a good idea to avoid engaging in this difficult conversation if you’re either mentally or physically tired or not well.
- How well are your children doing? You should also avoid entering into this difficult conversation if your children are either tired or busy. This does not mean that the first conversation has to be long, but this will make sure that the conversation unfolds in a natural way that is comfortable for you and your child.
How Should You Engage In This Conversation
Even once you decide why you should engage in a diagnosis conversation with your children and when you will do it, you might still feel like you are not ready. If your children are of substantially different ages, you might decide to engage in two separate conversations so you can focus on individualized approaches. Fortunately, some helpful pieces of advice can aid you in navigating this process.
- Remain honest. When it comes to facts concerning your illness, it’s a good idea to be as direct as you possibly can. Don’t avoid using the word, “cancer”. Instead, show your child or children where the cancer is and how it might end up impacting your body. Review your treatment options. Explain that cancer is not contagious. Understand that the child will likely ask what caused it, to which you might respond that we aren’t yet certain and do not know everything about cancer.
- Stay positive. Based on your situation, you might exchange hopeful or positive facts as much as you can without fully ignoring the realities of your situation. Explain to your child how the cancer treatment field is constantly evolving. Also make sure to mention that you and your medical team will do everything you possibly can to make sure you get better.
- Make sure that your children feel comfortable to ask questions as well as share any thoughts that they might have about cancer. Similarly, encourage your children to share their feelings. Reinforce to the child that there are no wrong feelings and that feelings are known to change occasionally. Do not be afraid to clarify your emotions to your child.
Regardless of how you and your loved ones decide to communicate details about your diagnosis
with your children, remember that you do not need to feel forced to jam everything into one long conversation. Based on a child’s attention span and level of understanding among other factors, it might be a good idea to break the conversations into several smaller talks.
Be Honest and Direct About Your Condition
Avoid hiding details about your illness from your children. If your children are at least pre-teens, they likely can access the internet on their own and look up details about mesothelioma on their own. If your children are this age, you should tell them what mesothelioma is as well as how it impacts your body and details about your diagnosis. You might even decide to include children this age in conversations with your medical provider.
Being honest with your children is important during this difficult time. This means avoiding attempts to gloss over your situation. While you might feel the urge to tell your children that you’ll be fine, saying something like this can create a false perspective for your children.
Tell Your Children How They Can Help You
As a person undergoing treatment for mesothelioma, you should not expect to perform all of the tasks that you once could. Treatment might make you feel tired, particularly if you are receiving chemotherapy. Your family and loved one will almost certainly need to assume part of the roles associated with being a caregiver. You might not be able to perform every household task.
Instead, you should sit down with your loved ones including your child or children. You should then explain to them clearly how they can help you as well as everyone else in your family. Children often end up needing to take on more responsibilities during this difficult time.
Performing various activities around the house including taking the trash out, cleaning, and retrieving groceries can help to make sure you maintain your energy for important events.
Remember, after your child begins participating and helping you achieve tasks, you should show your appreciation for how helpful the child is.
Locate a Quiet Place for the Talk
One of the most important and first steps you should take in engaging in a conversation about mesothelioma with your child is finding a place that is free of distractions. Young children can get distracted easily, which means they might have an important piece of information about your scenario.
Use Age-Appropriate Language
Younger children likely will not understand the more nuanced medical explanation. Speak to younger children at their level and while doing so do not avoid the term, “cancer”. Being specific avoids uncertainty about the illness in younger children.
Let Children Discuss Their Feelings
Let your children understand that it’s acceptable to feel differently than other family members. Children, regardless of their age, need the room to openly discuss how they feel after hearing the big news about a mesothelioma diagnosis. Open conversation enforces a child’s sense of security. Let your child know that feelings are normal and that it’s acceptable to feel differently than other family members.
Leave the Door Open for Future Chats
Make sure that children of all ages understand that they can ask questions at any point in time. Children might not immediately have questions. Understanding that a child can return later with additional questions is reassuring. As a result, you should emphasize to your child that if they later think of questions they would like to ask you, they should not hesitate to do so.
Avoid Forcing Your Child to Grow Up Too Quickly
You might decide that your child should help you by performing chores and tasks during this difficult time, but your child should not fill their schedule with only adult activities. Even though you are going through a difficult time, this does not mean that your child should abandon every enjoyable thing and become an adult.
Teenagers need “teenager time” which involves events like the movies and seeing friends. If your child is a pre-teen, they should engage in activities appropriate for their age. Children who are in college deserve similar treatment.
A healthy and eventful social life is valuable for any adolescent child. You might have to sit down with your child, though, and encourage them to temporarily shed their chores and responsibilities. Doing this makes you a good parent.
Practice Patience With Your Child’s Emotions
While cancer has the potential to feel like a very lonely illness, you should remember that you are not the only person impacted by your illness. Your loved ones will encounter a range of emotions as they face the difficult situation of coming to terms with your diagnosis and prognosis. While it’s true that human beings never stop maturing, this is particularly true in adolescents who are also still mature and who process life-changing news differently than adults do. Unfortunately, no directions or map exist in predicting how your child reacts to finding out that you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Some children will get emotional, while others will close themselves off from the world. Other children might grow angry and yell or throw things and focus their emotions on you or other family members. Do your best to remain patient with your child and appreciate that the perspective of losing a parent is the motivating force beyond many of their actions. After everything, your kid is still a kid and even adults routinely struggle with learning that a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Appreciate the Impact a Diagnosis Can Have on a Child
Childhood as well as adolescence is a critical period for emotional, physical, and mental development. Family challenges if not properly handled can disrupt this growth and result in lasting obstacles for a child. For example, one study involving the daughters of breast cancer survivors determined that various negative feelings including detachment and anxiety existed for decades. As loved ones navigate treatment, children sometimes react with either sadness or anger to the smallest cues. This might mean that children stay away from conversations with adults, withdraw from friends, or act embarrassed of their relative with cancer. Some other commonly encountered symptoms in children include vomiting, sleep disorders, poor performance at school, loss of appetite, headache, and destructive behavior.
Address Your Fears
Many parents tell their children that if they need to cry during these difficult chats, it’s okay to do so. If you feel like you need to cry while having this conversation, you should do so. Many families impacted by mesothelioma discover that they must address crying in various ways whether it is crying alone, crying with a spouse, crying with a parent, crying until they can no longer do so, and being there for their children while they cry.
Some families discover that not crying in front of children is a good idea due to the out-of-control nature of the disease. While you might feel like crying constantly, crying in front of your children might be too unstable a factor to tolerate especially if your children are very young. Some parents find that it helps children to remain strong and feel in control if the parent avoids crying in front of them.
As your disease progresses, you might discover that this no-crying rule changes. You might feel like you want everyone in your family to be on the same page or to show your children how sad you are that you might not always be there for them. If you find yourself needing to cry around your children, it’s okay to do so.
Remember This Does Not Change Anything
Having mesothelioma does not mean that you must come to terms with a shortened life expectancy. You might not be able to see many things you expected to see, including your child’s graduation from school, teaching your child how to drive, or attending your child’s wedding. Your guidance as a parent and the wishes you have for your children do not change, though.
Make sure that your children know that you will always love them and still want the very best for them. If your child participates in sports or has another routine event, you might find that it helps to keep this going. Your child should appreciate that the life they had before the mesothelioma diagnosis need not always go away completely. Instead, you should try to continue doing whatever you and your child did before a diagnosis of mesothelioma. If your child already has their own dreams, you should support them by stating that you will always be there to support them.
Reminding your children that you love them regardless of what happens is a beneficial way to aid them when you tell them the difficult news and helps to bring the focus to the appropriate issue: to your loved ones and enjoying however much time you have left.