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Five Things You Should Be Sure to Tell Your Kids about Cancer (So It’s Less Scary)

by Beverlye Hyman Fead

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Giving your children clear, honest information from the start will ease some of their anxieties and help them feel less afraid. Here are five important things to tell the children in your life about your cancer:

1. You cannot catch cancer from other people.
Cancer is not like a cold that you can catch by going too close to someone who is sick, nor is it like poison ivy that you can catch by touching someone who has it. You can hug and kiss a friend or family member with cancer, and sit on the lap of a grandparent with cancer, and you will never catch it.

2. My doctors are taking good care of me.
They are special doctors, called oncologists, trained to help people who have cancer. They are very smart when it comes to knowing just what the right medicine is for each type of cancer, and they are working hard to help me get better.

3. This is not anyone’s fault – not mine or yours.
No one can cause someone to get cancer. And there is nothing I did to bring about my cancer. While there are things we can all do to stay healthy, like eat well and exercise, people still get cancer. Even doctors don’t always know why.

Author of Article photo

Beverlye Fead and Tessa Hamermesh

4. Someone will always be there for you.
If I am not feeling well enough to come to a school or sports event, one of our friends or family members will come. Your school and extracurricular activities will continue as they always have. Someone will always be home for you. Your meals will be made, and your routines will go on just like before.

5. I will always be willing to talk to you about my cancer.
I will answer your questions, anytime. I will let you know how things are going with my treatments so you don’t have to wonder how I am doing. Always feel free to come to me to find out how I feel, to talk about your feelings, or to ask me a question.

One thing I did that helped my family cope was to have “catch-up” meetings once a month. This encouraged open communication about my cancer. My grandchildren liked having family time, and getting updates on how I was doing alleviated a lot of their anxiety and fear. Make sure to hold the meetings in comfortable surroundings, maybe offer some snacks, and try and keep the atmosphere light.

Some day your children will look back on this period in their lives and realize how much it taught them about coping and dealing with challenges. The greatest gifts parents can give their children are confidence and the tools to grow. And I hope that is what you will give your child during your illness.

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Eleven-year-old Tessa Mae Hamermesh and her Nana, Beverlye Hyman Fead, are the authors of Nana, What’s Cancer?, published by the American Cancer Society. The book explains cancer to kids ages 8 to 12 and inspires families to talk openly about it. The book is available at,, and wherever books are sold. Beverlye is a stage IV inoperable, metastasized leiomyosarcoma survivor and the author of I Can Do This: Living With Cancer. Tessa is the eldest of Beverlye’s five grandchildren and her only granddaughter.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2010.