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Talking to Children About a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Submitted By: Dr. Shenin Sachedina, The Central Florida Breast Center

With statistics as compelling as 1 in 8 women expecting to develop breast cancer sometime in their lives, the numbers speak for themselves. But what do we hear?

Women who do have breast cancer or who have faced breast cancer have shared their information through a variety of mediums. Their stories have been heard, and their fears have been acknowledged. But what we do not hear about are the children of these women, their concerns, and their fears.

Two major studies have come out of the British medical literature in 2006 which clearly support the fact that children of these women have issues with depression and other behavioral issues. Both of these studies concluded that information resources for these children need to be expanded. Due to lack of acknowledgement of the children's needs, very little informative data is available to answer their questions so as to ease their fears.

The first step in intervention is to simply acknowledge that children are affected. The next step in intervention is to provide the tools to open discussion among children. My advice to parents is to be open and honest with your children, no matter what their age. This honesty will act to set a strong foundation from which the family can work together to get through the challenges and changes that a diagnosis of breast cancer brings to any home environment.

In any family, no matter how strong the bonds, the diagnosis of breast cancer changes the dynamics of the household. In most families, the day to day primary care taker is the woman of the house. With her diagnosis of breast cancer, multiple doctor appointments, and recovery from surgery, the father focuses on the mother. At the same time, the mother is unable to keep the daily routine as previously experienced by the children in the household. This causes stress for the entire household.

As much as possible, try to keep certain routines the same as prior to the diagnosis. Set aside dedicated time for the children to deal with the emotional issues that the entire family may be experiencing. A family session led by mom!

It is important to have tools in the home environment that the children can have to allow for discussion if they feel overwhelmed. It is for that reason that I wrote Metu and Lee Learn About Breast Cancer. It is a first of its kind children's book with information cloaked in characters that teach and befriend those in need of the information. It discusses chemotherapy and radiation all in terms that children understand.

The book is an informative tool to open discussion at the time of diagnosis, and acts as a helping hand when issues at home arise. It provides tools to cope through the journey that these children take. It empowers with information, and teaches children what they can do to be a part of the team that is battling breast cancer. This book is for children ages 5 years old to 15 years old.

Metu and Lee Learn About Breast Cancer can be purchased at

Remember, children are very susceptible to the effects of changes in their surroundings, both seen and unseen. If we can educate them on the path ahead, we will surely give them coping tools in times of crisis. Ultimately, the voices of all need to be heard, and pain eased through communication.

Updated: January 20, 2009