How to Talk to Kids About Breast Cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime? It’s a harmful disease. The pain caused by both the illness and treatment itself is a challenge for all impacted – mothers, children, grandchildren, and students.
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A mother with breast cancer has to not only cope with the disease herself, but she also has to explain the illness to her children, all while feeling physiologically and psychologically weakened. Crying is bound to happen when a mother explains this disease to her children; a mother with breast cancer is afraid of being defeated by her illness and leaving her children behind. It’s an emotional challenge, so let these couple of tips can help all parents, healthy or not, discuss breast cancer with children.

Having a dialogue about breast cancer with kids will depend on that child’s ability to understand the disease. Parents, take note of where your child is developmentally (both emotionally and physically). Without knowing your child’s emotional development, explaining the disease can be somewhat tricky, and the last thing you want is any confusion to lead to additional problems.

Below you’ll find tips that can be used from the point of view of a mother with breast cancer and the point of view from a healthy parent explaining the disease to his/her child. Remember, women are not the only people who can develop breast cancer. 

Source: Cancer Treatments Center of America
Source: Cancer Treatments Center of America

From a healthy parent’s perspective: 

  1. Explain the dangers of breast cancer, from early to late symptoms. You can gather information from books or websites that explain the what the symptoms of breast cancer look like. Again, keep in mind a child’s age. Younger children (ages 0-5) often cannot grasp the deadliness and difficulty of the disease. Likewise, understanding the long term effects might be difficult to comprehend. Instead, explain some of the typical symptoms associated with the disease: weight loss, constant fatigue, hair loss, etc.
  2. Describe the causes of breast cancer: an unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol consumption, genetic factors, and hormones. The goal is for kids learn how to live a healthy life to lessen the chances of developing cancer. Begin this discussion early on as living an unhealthy lifestyle, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are some of the greatest factors in determining a person’s chances in developing any form of cancer.
  3. Explain that living a healthy lifestyle can prevent kids from developing cancer: eating wholesome food consisting of fresh fruit and vegetables, getting regular exercise, limiting the amount of alcohol consumed to a minimum.  Avoid breathing polluted air or drinking polluted water. And, of course, limit the exposure to excessive sunlight!
  4. Explain how kids should behave when parents or relatives are affected by breast cancer. This is important because when adults practice empathy, children are able to develop empathy and respond appropriately if their relative suffers from breast cancer. Realistically, this can be taught when children are closer to age 5 or older.
Source: Advanced Medical Imaging
Source: Advanced Medical Imaging

For parents who have/have had breast cancer, here are some tips:

  1. Assure kids that mother’s breast cancer is not their fault. Some kids, especially those who were breastfed, feel guilty when seeing their mother suffer from cancer; they often think it’s because they were breastfed. However, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer. Kids have to be reassured of this to support their mother who is suffering.
  2. Assure children that no matter what happens, you still love them. Pain that’s suffered by a mother may cause kids to feel left out. So, mom or dad, you need to assure your kids that you still love them no matter what.
  3. Reassure your children that you need their support and their help. Involve your kids in taking care of you. In doing so, they can learn to better understand the pain due to mother’s breast cancer.

How does involving children in taking care of mom help the whole situation?

First, it will make the “battle of breast cancer” more apparent to the kids. The children will join in the battle with mom (or dad). Some children will develop empathy and patriotism! With this fighting attitude, children can be happy to help mom fight breast cancer. Secondly, by looking at the kids’ spirit, the mother can be excited and strong too! This spirit will make mom more powerful in fighting her enemy: breast cancer! This will add the strength of mother’s immunity, and facilitate healing.

So, are you ready to talk about breast cancer with your children? Even if there is no breast cancer in your family, now is the time to start talking about healthy living and making good choices! Plus, cancer can develop in even the healthiest of us. We want our children to become good health ambassadors who can carry on the desire to live a long and healthy life. Your kids will be the agent of change for their families, friends and their own children.   

More resources

Breast Cancer Quick Reference Guide
– This is a great education chart for anyone learning about breast cancer or teaching breast cancer awareness. The chart includes the symptoms of breast cancer, preventions, treatments and side effects of treatment.

If you need reading resources about kids and cancer, especially breast cancer, you can read The Lemonade Club by Patricia Polacco, and Mom Goes To War by Irene Aparici Martín. These are excellent books about kids that helping friends and mothers battling cancer.

About the All-Star Blogger

breastcancerauthorMarcellina Maria Magdalena is interested in homeschooling, parenting, and healthy living. She lives in a remote area in Indonesia with her amazing 11-year-old son and a wonderful husband. You can read her opinions at her blog