Breaking the news

Communicating with Family — By on August 11, 2009 at 6:41 am

I just don’t understand. I am trying really hard to understand but I just can’t get my head around it.

I have encountered several stories in a variety of places over the last few weeks in which parents have made the choice to not inform their children about “The Diagnosis”.

Now, some families do not have the choice of withholding this kind of information from their children. Awful things happen to parents sometimes.

They walk out the door in the morning and they don’t come back for one terrible reason or another. There is just not much choice in these situations.

I’m not struggling with that scenario (at least not in regard to this topic). I am struggling with the scenario in which there is a cancer diagnosis, there is treatment occurring and there is a lot of omission, denial and mistrust.

I can understand that the decision is made out of love for the children and concern for their ability to cope. But what good can come out of this particular choice? It seems that trying to make things easier would end up just making everything harder in the end.

I actually read a story recently in which the same conversation that the children learned about the parent’s cancer diagnosis was the same conversation in which they learned they were about to say good-bye.

There had been a lengthy illness and there had been time. There is never enough time in these situations but there had been time to have multiple conversations and make some beautiful memories. And there just are no “do overs” in a scenario like this. You cannot go back and try it a different way.

It seems to me that everyone loses: the ill parent loses the ability to talk honestly with his children, say what needs to be said and receive comfort in the sweet ways that only a child can give it.

The well parent loses all of these and could be left holding the bag with children that have not been given time to process or grieve. And the children? They may lose a parent, a significant amount of trust and an opportunity to help and heal with their family.

I know that breaking the news about a cancer diagnosis is tough for anyone, particularly to a child. But I have to believe that our children deserve the truth. It has to be delivered in age appropriate ways and with plenty of honesty and room for questions and emotion. A cancer diagnosis is given to one person but it happens to the whole family. How else can you all hold hands and help each other be brave if everyone isn’t allowed to participate in their own way?

What was your experience with talking to your children about a cancer diagnosis in the family? Did you consider not telling them?

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