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10:53 AM

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation: 7 Tips for Talking to Kids about Cancer

By Trish Adkins

When Beth Cook’s then 8-year-old son Travis was diagnosed with a brain tumor, she did not know what to say. 

“I did not know what to tell Travis, but I had to tell him,” recalls Beth. “I told him there was something in his head that didn't belong there, but it was going to be ok because he had the best doctors in the world taking care of him. I didn't know if that was the right thing to say, but it comforted him. I was a lot less confident than I showed.”

The story is similar for most childhood cancer families—the diagnosis is a shock and parents are left struggling with the right words to tell their child and then later their siblings, friends and classmates.

The hardest step is saying cancer for the first time.

For both children who are diagnosed and the children closest to them, using medically correct terms is important, according to Amanda Woelk, a Child Life Specialist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

“We encourage the use of the correct terminology. If you use another term in an effort to make your child less scared, it can backfire,” said Woelk. “It is scary if kids overhear you use the word cancer, if you haven’t used it with them before.”

It is extremely difficult for both parents and children to explain to other people how a childhood cancer diagnosis has affected them. This is normal, says Woelk. But, making connections with other families dealing with similar diagnoses can help with feelings of isolation and loneliness.

For friends and families of childhood cancer heroes, Woelk reminds everyone not to shy away or be worried that you don’t know the right thing to say. The time during diagnosis and treatment is when your loved ones need you the most. You can also reach out to professionals for advice on how to communicate and provide support.


Read the full story via Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation

Learn more about Pediatric Oncology at Children's Mercy

Learn more about Child Life at Children's Mercy