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Dealing with a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

Talking to children about prostate cancer

This article is not intended to replace professional medical care or advice. If you have any questions or need additional information, please talk with your doctor.

For some families, the most difficult part of a prostate cancer diagnosis may be telling the children. Though you may be able to put off the conversation for a few days, even very young children can sense when something is wrong. As such, a good piece of advice is to be as open and honest as you can and depending on age, determine how much detail you are willing to disclose. The important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to tell your child that his or her father, uncle or grandfather has cancer.

Considering the age

Normally, the first thing that will impact how and what you tell your kids is how old they are. If you have children or grandchildren of varying ages, such as a toddler and two middle schoolers, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute advised speaking with them in separate groups. Not only will the language and terminology be different, but the questions that you get back from them will be as well. When talking to children under the age of 5, it is best to use plain and uncomplicated words that will not scare or confuse them. It is likely that they will be more concerned if or when physical side effects of cancer treatment actually become visible. Age is an important factor to consider when discussing cancer.

Children who are already in school will have a little more knowledge on disease and sickness as well as medicine and treatment. Dana-Farber suggested using a doll or stuffed animal to help explain how the cancer may impact the body and even discussing the “bad” cancer cells. Allow them time to ask questions they may have.

No matter the age of the children, it is important to emphasize that cancer is not contagious, they did not cause it and they cannot catch it. Even if they don’t voice these concerns out loud, it may be a lingering thought in the back of their head and reassuring them will help.

Preparing the discussion

It can be beneficial to prepare exactly what information you are going to share with your children and how you are going to relay it. Do you and your partner want to tell the kids together? Do you want to have two separate conversations? If you are having trouble making a game plan, consider reaching out to the treating doctor or care team, advised the patient information site of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), Cancer.Net. Even if they do not have all of the answers, they will be able to point you in the right direction. You may even consider asking your child’s pediatrician for guidelines in explaining the cancer.

As your family faces the prostate cancer journey ahead, there will likely be more questions that arise and that is perfectly normal. One difficult part may be explaining confusing words that your little one overhears or sees at the doctor’s office. Words such as metastasis, chemotherapy, prostatectomy, bone marrow and tumor can all sound daunting to a young child. Consider providing simplified age-appropriate explanations. For example, chemotherapy can be explained as “medicine that helps to get rid of the cancer,” and so on.

Handling the emotional impact

Don’t be surprised if your children go right back to playing after you tell them about the diagnosis. Similar to adults learning of a cancer diagnosis, there is no one way that a child will act. Some may be confused and upset, while others run off and continue to play as though nothing is wrong. Both are perfectly normal. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it is important to tell your children that it is in fact OK to cry if they are feeling upset but also that it is equally OK if they don’t cry. Some may feel as though they have to put on a brave face for their parents or younger siblings, while others may feel troubled that they aren’t shedding any tears. Again, there is no right or wrong way to handle the news.

As the ACS explained, the ideal way to tell your children is to be honest while still being hopeful. Though it is important for them to understand the extent of the situation, it helps to be upbeat and remain positive during the journey. Above all, the best thing that you can do for your children is to be there for them.