Talking to children about ovarian cancer

It’s up to you whether or not you choose to tell your children that you have ovarian cancer.

As a parent it’s natural to want to protect children from worry and distress. But withholding information can sometimes make children feel even more anxious as they’re not given a space to ask questions or talk about how they’re feeling.

Children can easily pick up signs of distress. They will notice quiet conversations, changes in the atmosphere at home and things out of the ordinary.

Talking to them about what’s actually going on will prevent any fantasies that they have about what might be going on from getting out of control.

How can I tell them?

As the parent of your children, you are the expert and you know your children best but these tips may help:

  • Who should tell them? If you are a two-parent family it might be a good idea to tell them together, this may make you feel less anxious and offer them more support. If you’re a single-parent family you might like to ask someone to join you
  • Who should I tell? You may feel that some of your children are too young to hear what’s happening but telling only older children can make them feel burdened, as if they have to keep a secret. Younger children may also wonder why they were told last
  • Choose a comfortable location. Talking in a place that your children find safe and secure might encourage them to ask questions and talk about how they’re feeling
  • Not just before bed. Talking to children just before they’re going to bed might make it hard for them to fall asleep
  • Be specific. Sticking to clear facts and being as specific as possible might prevent children from worrying if something’s not quite clear
  • Keep it simple. Use straightforward, simple language with small words and short sentences
  • Be honest. Children are very perceptive and if you’re not completely honest they may find it harder to believe you if they feel that you’re hiding something. Try not to cushion what you’re saying and make it sound less serous than it really is. You could say that cancer is serious, but your doctors are working hard to make you better

Listening to your children and following their train of thought rather than directing the route of the conversation yourself will encourage them to open up and ask questions.

You may need to repeat yourself if something was unclear or explain it in a different way. Some children may want to know how their lives might be affected.