5 Things Your Kids Need to Know About Cancer

A family member, close friend, or you have cancer. What do you tell the kids?

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When Beverlye Hyman Fead was diagnosed with cancer, her granddaughter Tessa had a lot of tough questions: Who gets the disease; what causes it; and how is it treated?

“Tessa has lost three other grandparents to cancer, so her qualifications for asking questions are very real,” says Fead, co-author of a new book, Nana, What’s Cancer? with 11-year-old Tessa Mae Hamermesh to help explain cancer in a way that children can understand (and handle).

“It’s important to talk about cancer with your kids so it’s less scary,” says Tessa. “It’s not a secret.”

The bottom line is that conversations about cancer are unsettling and potentially difficult. To help Post readers respond to the top five concerns of kids ages 8 to 12 about the disease, Fead provides the following information:

1. Cancer is not contagious.
You cannot catch cancer like you could a cold or the flu. It is not a sickness that moves from one person to another. You can hug and kiss me, hold my hand, and sit on my lap, and you will never ever catch my cancer.

2. My doctors are helping me get better.
They are special doctors trained to help people who have cancer. They are very smart when it comes to knowing just what the right medicine is for each type of cancer, and they are working hard to help me get better.

3. It’s OK to feel sad or mad, or whatever it is you’re feeling.
It is only natural to feel sad or angry or afraid when someone you love or care about is not feeling well. It’s okay to cry. Share your feelings with your family, friends, teachers or a counselor. And don’t feel guilty about having fun or being happy; I want your life to be as normal as possible.

4. This is no one’s fault.
No one can cause someone to get cancer. You did not cause my cancer, and I did not cause it to happen. While there are things we can all do to stay healthy, like eat well and exercise, sometimes people still get cancer. Even doctors don’t always know why people get cancer.

5. I will always be willing to talk to you about my cancer.
I will be happy to answer your questions, anytime. I will try to let you know how things are going with my treatments, so you don’t have to wonder how I am doing. But always feel free to come to me to ask me how I am feeling, talk about your feelings, or ask a question.

Nana, What's Cancer? by Beverlye Hyman Fead and Tessa Mae Hamermesh. © American Cancer Society
© American Cancer Society

Editor’s Note: Nana, What’s Cancer? (2009) by Beverlye Hyman Fead and Tessa Mae Hamermesh is geared for families with kids ages 8-12. Published by the American Cancer Society, the new title is available on Amazon.com, the cancer.org bookstore, and wherever books are sold.

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