How to start talking

Talking about cancer or bereavement and loss, may bring to the surface experiences of your own, and that these may be unexpected. Look after yourself, talk to colleagues and find support.

Example of how to start the discussion about cancer

“Our body is made up of lots of different types of cells. They are tiny so we need a microscope to see them. We have millions of them and there are lots of different types with different jobs, and together they all make sure our body works really well. Inside each cell is a set of instructions that tell the cell what to do. One very important instruction is to tell the cell to make a copy of itself (for example, if you cut your finger, skin cells make copies of themselves to repair the skin).

Sometimes the instructions can get damaged or lost and the cell is no longer under control. It starts to misbehave and make lots and lots of copies of itself. These misbehaving cells are called cancer cells. A cancer tumour is a lump of cancer cells that have made too many copies of themselves.

Fortunately there are lots of different types of medicines that can be used to treat a person with cancer.”

  • Try to dispel any myths that are common amongst children (use the information at the back of this book).
  • Use books, props, apps and games to explain cells, cancer, disease, treatment and potential outcomes. Dolls or stuffed animals can be used with younger children.

When a child is in class who has a parent diagnosed with cancer

The affected child can feel a sense of empowerment by answering their classmates questions and helping them understand the situation.

Talking openly about cancer to a class that has a child present who is affected by parental cancer can be extremely beneficial to everyone, as the child can feel a sense of empowerment by answering their classmates questions and helping them understand the situation.

Educating the class about cancer can help to prevent a variety of problems, in ways such as settling the children who may be worried about catching cancer, or worried about their parents getting cancer too. It can also prevent the constant asking of questions to the child if cancer is openly discussed within the class.

If the child wants to share their experience and talk about cancer and how it is affecting their parent, you can facilitate this. But it is good to have a discussion beforehand to work out what will be covered.

Never exclude the child, for example by sending them out of the room. Talk to them first about what you are going to say, and then ask them if they want to stay (most children choose to stay).