Date Published: 3 March 2006

Parents should communicate a cancer diagnosis to their children

Health News from Ireland
Health News from the UK

At the National Conference of Cancer Support Groups in Dublin Castle today, experts in the field of counselling people with cancer have advised that it is essential that patients with children communicate their diagnosis to their children however testing they find it themselves.

Counselling experts believe that, as cancer affects the feelings and emotions of the whole family, a child has a right to know.

Children are also very sensitive to stress and tension and if parents try to protect children by saying nothing, they may feel isolated and worry that something even worse is happening. Four hundred people who have experienced a cancer diagnosis and who are members of the various Cancer Support Groups affiliated to the Irish Cancer Society, will attend this conference. It is estimated that 22,500 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Ireland this year but fortunately the survival rates for those diagnosed are increasing all the time and many cancers are curable.

The counselling experts further advised conference attendees that children have an ability to deal with the truth that adults often underestimate. Even very sad truths will be better than the uncertainty of not knowing what is happening. Unfortunately we cannot stop children feeling sad, but if parents share their feelings and give them information about what is happening, parents can support children in their sadness.

Delegates also heard that it is preferable that the news about a cancer diagnosis comes from the individual affected and if this is not possible then from someone close to the child. It is best to explain the initial news after diagnosis, prepare children for what to expect as a result of treatments, explain the side effects and be willing to answer questions simply and honestly whenever they may arise and in a manner that is appropriate to their age and level of maturity. It is also important not to force children to talk about the issue.

Speaking at the event, Psychotherapist and Counsellor at the Irish Cancer Society Linda Fulton said,

" Parents who have involved their children and explained the implications of a cancer diagnosis can feel a sense of relief. Children too are better able to cope in an environment where asking about the issue is encouraged and dealt with in an open manner. Despite all the difficulties a cancer diagnosis brings, the situation may be an opportunity for children to learn about emotions and how to deal with difficult feelings. Sharing information and emotions can strengthen the bonds between parents and children and can help them face other difficult experiences in life. The whole family may discover reserves of love and inner strength that will enhance their life together.
_ If a parent (or sibling) is not going to recover, it is important to balance hope with reality and to try and face it with children and allow them to be part of the process which is likely to help them with their recovery from grief and to look ahead to the future.

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