How to Talk to Your Adult
Children About Breast Cancer

Telling a child that you have cancer, at any age, is tremendously difficult. Telling my children that I was diagnosed with breast cancer was probably one of the hardest moments of my life. I was feeling vulnerable and scared and so unsure about my prognosis and treatment plan; the uncertainty of it all made breaking the news to my daughter Mollie and son Cory extremely painful.  To some extent, having older children at the time of diagnosis is easier because they can comprehend a lot more. But emotionally, their reactions at the time of diagnosis can be very similar to that as a younger child.  

Adult children understand breast cancer, they’ve likely seen friends or other family members go through diagnosis, surgery and treatment. Even if they haven’t experienced it first hand, they’ve been exposed to it through the media, television shows and movies, and they can comprehend the battle you’re facing. They might not know the intricacies involved in a double mastectomy, but they can prepare themselves for the physical changes in our bodies, the lack of appetites or the increased appetites, the loss of hair or the nausea and vomiting, the nights or weeks spent in the hospital, and the overall grueling physical side effects of breast cancer treatment. 

But having my adult children around me during my treatment was such a godsend. The emotional support that I got from Mollie and Cory, and from my son-in-law Jason and my future daughter-in-law Becca, helped me through some of the most difficult and challenging moments of my treatment.   That’s not to say that we didn’t have our moments where we cried and got angry, or when we really turned to our faith and prayed together for the best possible outcome.

 

We all struggled, and their struggles were a little different than mine. They struggled with the possibility of losing me, which was just terrifying. Mollie, in particular, started considering her own health especially as we waited for the genetic test results. I felt myself constantly trying to be there for them, to keep their hopes up, while also confronting my own fears. 

But we managed to get through it with a lot of communication. We were all very open with each other and I feel so fortunate that I have such a close relationship with my children. Because we were so open and honest with each other about how we were feeling, they were able to give me the support I needed while I was able to comfort them and allay some of their fears. 

If you’re struggling with how to tell your adult children you have breast cancer, here are a couple of tips that helped me with that difficult conversation:

  • Be honest with your children about your diagnosis and prognosis. Giving them all the facts and information will help them understand the difficult road you have ahead of you. 
  • Share your feelings; it’s okay for you to tell them that you’re afraid, anxious and sad. If you want them to share all of their feelings with you too, let them know. If you feel you can’t handle their emotional needs on top of your own, tell them that too. 
  • Don’t be afraid to say the wrong things, there really isn’t anything you can share about your diagnosis and prognosis that could be wrong. It’s so much better for everyone if you share how you feel than try to hide it. 
  • Talk to your children about your needs so they can provide you with the necessary help to get you through treatment. At this stage, you might not even know yet what those needs are but letting them know that you could use their help as much in advance as possible will help them plan better. They will need that extra time to figure out how to schedule helping you with coordinating with their own work schedules, child care needs and other personal responsibilities. 
  • Encourage your children to speak to their own doctor about their risks of developing breast cancer, especially if they are worried. You can also offer to speak with your doctor about risk factors for your children as well.  
  • Offer to bring your children along to your appointments with your oncologist and breast surgeon. In addition to supporting you through your appointments, they might also have questions that they’d like to ask your doctors. Allowing them to have that kind of access to your medical team will help them understand how to be better care givers. 
  • Continue to plan fun family activities, celebrations, and outings as your health allows. During these events, don’t talk about breast cancer- just be a “normal” family. Having these lighter moments, full of laughter and fun, helped us all cope. It’s good for both the cancer patient and the family. 

If you’ve been recently diagnosed and are having a difficult time sharing the news with your loved one, let us know how we can support you!