Shoud Children Know?
Happy new week! I trust that you had a wonderful weekend. Mine was busy as usual. After making the top 100 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, the next stage involved creating a video discussing my passion for the business. You can check it out here. Saturday was busy. I am grateful to my brother from another mother, Caleb for helping with the video production. We had customers coming and going. It was busy. Sunday was a celebration at church. My daughter, Oluwatamilore (Tami) turned 12! It was also a critical celebration for me because this time last year, I had just left the hospital and I had that 700-guest wedding to cater for. It was at that wedding that I received my new names O.E.M.A. Here is the link to that blog.
Tami was worth celebrating in many ways. She handled my cancer treatment with such grace and dignity. Her academics were not affected, and she has consistently being on honor roll. She has a quiet strength about her. Everything I have said about Tami brings me to my blog subject of today: Should children be informed when a family member is diagnosed with cancer?
To some, it’s too difficult a subject to relay to children. In societies were people are still hush when it comes to cancer, it is only logical not to tell the children. Among the many difficult questions parents face when a family member is diagnosed with cancer is “What do I tell my children?” Fearful that they might upset or worry their youngsters and teens, some parents withhold the news. But even at a very young age, children can sense when something is wrong. If not told the truth, they might imagine that things are worse than they really are or even that they themselves are the cause of the problem.
What do I think? They need to know. Yes! They have a right to know. Children, no matter how small are smarter than we think. I remember that conversation February 9, 2017 while discussing the biopsy with my husband. Tami had overheard. She followed me to the room and asked why I went for a biopsy.
By talking with your children honestly and helping them express their emotions, you make it easier for them to feel safe and secure. And as their parent, you are the best judge of how to talk to your children. It is going to be a very hard conversation, but it is important that you communicate. Here are some tips that worked for me:
1. Be calm. Use a calm, reassuring voice, even if you become sad. This will help your children see how you are trying to cope and will help them do the same.
2. Avoid being vague. Don’t be afraid to use the word “cancer.” Fear of a word, gives it unnecessary power and stronghold. Tell or show them where the cancer is on your body. Remember that if you don’t talk to your kids about cancer, they may invent their own explanations, which can be even more frightening than the facts.
3. Explain the treatment plan and how it will affect their lives. Prepare your children for any physical changes you might go through during treatment (for instance, hair loss, extreme tiredness, or weight loss). Let your children know that their needs will continue to be taken care of (for example, “Daddy will take you to soccer practice instead of Mom for a while.”)
4. Answer your children’s questions as accurately as possible. Take into account their age and prior experience with serious illness in the family. If you do not know the answer to a question, don’t panic. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know. I will try to find out the answer and let you know.”
5. Allow your children to participate in your care. It activates their ability to be compassionate. My children were actively involved. Give them age-appropriate tasks such as bringing you a glass of water or an extra blanket. Tami gives me back rubs and massages with Eucalyptus oil daily. Bolu oversaw humidifier duties. They both kept me up to date with my medications. Upon my discharge from the hospital, I had to take IV antibiotics for 30 days. I was so overwhelmed by the instructions I did not remember how to twist the IV piggy bag. Fortunately, Tami was there when the home care nurse was explaining. She rescued us the next day when her dad needed to administer the morning dose. She was only 11! Why am I saying this? Your children want to help and be useful in the good times and bad times. Allow them!
6. Encourage your children to express their feelings. Share with them that they can express any feelings, even those that are uncomfortable. Let them know, too, that it’s okay to say, “I don’t feel like talking right now,” if that is the case.
7. Reassure your children that they will be cared for. Let them know that even if you can’t always provide the care directly, their needs are important and will be taken care of. I can’t thank my cousin Dara enough for those months. She was in charge. She was God sent.
8. To the extent possible, make communicating with your children a priority. Cancer treatments may leave you with less energy but try to make every effort to really listen to your children. This will show them how much you love them and help them to feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns in the future. A night before one of my many treatments, my family and I were watching America’s Got Talent. It was one of those qualifying rounds. A lot of the contestants in that round had lost loved ones to one form of cancer. On my treatment day, Bolu held my hand and prayed a declarative prayer: ‘Yesterday, we heard of many people who did not make it because of one thing or another. Mum, I leave you in God’s hands. You will make it, I will not lose you’. It was such an emotional moment. I was grateful to God I had a praying son. From time to time, he will look at me and say, ‘You will be fine, I won’t lose you’. I don’t think there is any prayer purer than that of child.
9. As always, show your children a lot of love and affection. Let them know that although things are different now, your love for them has not changed. Cancer can be overwhelming and disruptive, but it doesn’t change the fact that you know your children best. Trust your sense of how to best support them during this difficult time.