Q. My 11-year-old daughter has been distant since I was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. I’m looking for advice on how to talk to her and support her. I know it’s not easy for her.
It can be so difficult to support your child emotionally while dealing with a cancer diagnosis yourself. Please know that the distance is normal for someone her age, however; it can be a sign that she is experiencing fear and/or doubt about your current situation. Even though she is young, she is at an age where she may be questioning the world around her, forming her own identity and searching for independence. How transparent have you been with her about your diagnosis? At this point, information can be used as a tool to help her cope with what she is experiencing. From her perspective, she may be scared that your cancer is going to return or she may be confused about the current situation. When talking to her about your cancer diagnosis it is important to keep a few things in mind:
Set the tone: Use a calm and reassuring voice when speaking with her; this will let her know that you are doing your best to cope that that you want her to feel confident with the information that you are giving her.
Share information about your cancer: She is 11, meaning that she most likely has access to the internet which can be a dangerous thing. If she is confused or scared, she may use the internet to get her questions answered and we know that each cancer diagnosis/treatment plan is unique. Do not be afraid to use the word “cancer” with her and explain how your treatment or surgery has affected your body.
Answer her questions accurately: It is common to want to protect your child from any information that may cause her stress or worry; however, she may feel more open with you if you can talk freely about your experience and answer any questions she may have.
Let her know that she is supported: Regardless of the current situation, let her know that she can talk to you whenever she needs, or turn to a family member and/or friend for additional support. Do not be afraid to let her school know about your situation (if you have not done so already) as this can strengthen her support system and allow her another outlet to talk if she needs to.
Make communication a priority and remain consistent: Let her know that although things are different now, your love for her has not changed. Sometimes, you may not know what to say. This is normal and okay. Remember that you are the expert on your child. Cancer can be overwhelming and disruptive, but it doesn’t change the fact that you know your daughter best. Trust your sense of how to best support her during this difficult time.
An oncology social worker from CancerCare can provide information, resources and counseling; contact our Hopeline at 800-813-HOPE to explore services that could be helpful.