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Parental Cancer Awareness
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In the last section, we discussed three fundamental needs of children. The three fundamental needs we discussed were continuous satisfaction of their basic physical and emotional needs, and understanding on their level of what is happening, and reassurance that they will be cared for no matter what happens to you. Now that the client has a better understanding of these fundamental needs, he or she may be ready for the next step.
In this section, we will discuss breaking the news. This will include talking to children, timing, and three goals to breaking the news. Three goals to breaking the news are to provide enough facts to allay the child’s immediate fears, to reassure them that they will be kept informed and be well taken care of, and to prepare them for what’s coming next.
3 Considerations for Breaking the News
♦ #1 Talking to Children
Let’s first discuss talking with your client’s Children. Jeremy, age 34, had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Jeremy had three children, ages 5, 9, and 11. I stated to Jeremy, "Your first duty to your children is breaking the news. There is no easy way to tell your children you have cancer. The task is easier, though, if your mission to help them "deal with their world" is kept in mind."
Because Jeremy had three children of various ages, I stated, "With everything you say, keep in mind the age of each child, each child’s fund of knowledge and past experiences. Every child is unique and deserves specialized attention. Of course, you can talk with them as a group when sharing the diagnosis or other news. Afterwards, you may need to spend time privately with one or all of your children, tending to their individual questions and needs."
♦ #2 Timing
Would you agree that timing can be important regarding breaking the news? I stated to Jeremy, "In most cases, plan on telling your children something as soon as changes occur in the home that affect them. If you are in the hospital, they need to be told something that day. If your cancer was diagnosed at a routine checkup, you may find it productive to wait until you know a little more. In this case, fill them in as soon as you know what you are going to do."
♦ #3 Three Main Goals
In addition to talking to children and timing, third, let’s discuss three main goals associated with breaking the news. Jeremy asked, "What specifically should I be hoping to accomplish with my children when I tell them I have cancer?" How might you have responded to Jeremy? I replied, "There are three main goals commonly associated with breaking the news. They are:
-- to provide enough facts to calm the child’s immediate fears,
-- to reassure them that they will be kept informed and be well taken care of, and
-- to prepare them for what’s coming next."
Might your client, like Jeremy wonder how facts can be presented in a way that helps to calm the child’s fears? I stated, "Surround your words with verbal and physical evidence of your love. With everything you say and do, encourage your children to keep the lines of communication open with you. Find a quiet place where you can hug your children and answer their concerns without distractions or interruptions. Tell them the truth and keep it simple."
When Jeremy broke the news to his children, he stated, "I just found out that I have an illness called cancer. The type of cancer I have is called testicular cancer." At first, Jeremy had informed me that he didn’t like to use the word ‘cancer.’ I stated, "Even though you may feel uncomfortable saying the word ‘cancer,’ using it helps to make ‘cancer’ just an ordinary word."
Think of your Jeremy... Is it best that your client break the news to his or her children? If your client is uncontrollably upset, his or her children may be frightened or feel insecure no matter how well the client chooses her words. In such cases, perhaps someone else can break the news. I find that any trusted adult who has had an intimate relationship with the children involved can be a good candidate for breaking the news. Grandparents are especially adept at talking to children.
But, as I stated to Jeremy, "Never lose sight of your number one priority: getting the best medical treatment possible to get you well. If someone else has to take care of your children’s needs, even breaking the news, while you take care of yourself, so be it. Try to stay as involved as possible with your kids, but don’t sacrifice your health." Jeremy agreed. He stated, "Yeah, it would be better to screw up dealing with the kids in the short run and be able to take care of them later than to focus so much on them I screw up and can’t get better." Think of your Jeremy. How might your client benefit from learning strategies for breaking the news?
In this section, we discussed breaking the news. This included talking to children, timing, and three goals to breaking the news. Three goals to breaking the news are to provide enough facts to allay the child’s immediate fears, to reassure them that they will be kept informed and be well taken care of, and to prepare them for what’s coming next.
In the next section, we will discuss sorting out priorities. An effective technique for sorting out priorities is the creating an energy bank account technique.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Egberts, M. R., Verkaik, D., Spuij, M., Mooren, T. T. M., van Baar, A. L., & Boelen, P. A. (2021). Child adjustment to parental cancer: A latent profile analysis. Health Psychology.
Flahault, C., & Sultan, S. (2010). On being a child of an ill parent: A Rorschach investigation of adaptation to parental cancer compared to other illnesses. Rorschachiana, 31(1), 43–69.
Katz, L. F., Fladeboe, K., Lavi, I., King, K., Kawamura, J., Friedman, D., Compas, B., Breiger, D., Lengua, L., Gurtovenko, K., & Stettler, N. (2018). Trajectories of marital, parent-child, and sibling conflict during pediatric cancer treatment. Health Psychology, 37(8), 736–745.
Kissil, K., Niño, A., Jacobs, S., Davey, M., & Tubbs, C. Y. (2010). “It has been a good growing experience for me”: Growth experiences among African American youth coping with parental cancer. Families, Systems, & Health, 28(3), 274–289.
Pariseau, E. M., Chevalier, L., Muriel, A. C., & Long, K. A. (2019). Parental awareness of sibling adjustment: Perspectives of parents and siblings of children with cancer. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication.
What are three goals for breaking the news? To select and enter your answer go to .