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Information central for parenting with breast cancer.

Getting Through Treatment & Recovery

Preparing Your Children For Treatment

Explaining Treatment

Kids fare best when they know what to expect. This is particularly true with cancer treatment. Let your children know what’s going to happen and when. Older children might want to know everything up front. Younger kids might need to know each step a few days before it’s going to happen. Pay attention to each child’s response to your discussions about cancer so you can better gauge what will be most helpful.

Treatment Plan

Start discussing your treatment by talking to your kids about the overall plan. It may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone treatment, alternative therapies and other options. Here are some suggestions for explaining the different elements of your plan. (For more suggestions, see Glossary and Answers to Kids’ Questions.)

Lumpectomy:

“I’m going to the hospital to have the tumor removed from my breast. A doctor (called an anesthesiologist) will give me some medicine so I fall asleep and stay asleep during the surgery. While I’m sleeping, another doctor (called a surgeon) will use special tools to make an opening in my breast, remove the cancer, close up the opening, and cover it with a bandage. Then the anesthesiologist will stop giving me the sleeping medicine so I’ll wake up. He’ll also give me pain medicine so I will be comfortable after the operation. I’ll come home and rest for a couple of days. I’ll be sore, but I’ll feel better soon.” (see illustration)

Mastectomy:

I’m having an operation to remove the parts of my breast that have-or can get-cancer. At the hospital, a doctor (called an anesthesiologist) will give me some medicine so I fall asleep and stay asleep during the surgery. While I’m sleeping, another doctor (a surgeon) will use special tools to open my skin, remove the breast, and close up the opening. He’ll wrap a special bandage around my chest. Then the anesthesiologist will stop giving me the sleeping medicine so I’ll wake up. He’ll also give me pain medicine so I will be comfortable after the operation. I’ll come home and rest for a couple of days. I’ll be sore, but I’ll feel better soon. (see illustration)

Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy is special medicine that kills cancer cells. Cancer is like a dandelion. The wind blows the seeds loose from the flower, and they travel to other locations. Then they can grow into new dandelions wherever they land. Tiny cancer cells can leave the tumor in my breast and travel to other parts of my body. Over time they can grow into new tumors. Chemotherapy will kill all the tiny cancer cells so they can’t grow into new tumors.

Radiation

I’m having cancer treatment called radiation. This is when doctors use special x-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation can come from a machine, and it can come from special material that’s placed inside my breast near the tumor. My radiation is going to come from a machine. I’m going to have it done every day (except weekends) for four weeks.

Timing

Tell your children about the initial timing for your treatment. You can even make a timeline or a calendar for your kids to help them keep track of your treatment. A calendar also shows them that treatment is temporary. They can literally see the end. Your kids might like to cross off the days as they pass.

Depending on your response to treatment, your side effects, and many other factors, your plans may evolve over time. Be sure to tell your children that the timing of your treatment will probably change.

Side Effects

Prepare your children for the side effects of treatment by letting them know in advance what you might experience. Every patient responds differently to treatment, and it’s impossible to predict how any one patient will fare. Tell your children about the most likely side effects. They’ll be overwhelmed if you tell them about all of the potential side effects (just like you probably were when you heard about them from your doctor).

Here are some of the side effects you may want to discuss with your children, depending on their age and temperament.

Surgery

  • You’ll be sore for a few days, but this will get better over time.
  • You will have a scar, but it will fade over time.
  • You may have some pain in the first day or two after surgery. You can take medicine to help with the pain, and it will go away after a couple of days.
  • Your body might look different (flatter chest, no nipple/areola complex, etc.).
  • You might have more surgery to make your breasts look more like they used to.
  • You may have restrictions on how much you can lift (especially relevant to younger children because
  • you may not be able to lift them for awhile).
  • You may not be able to give really big hugs for awhile.
  • You may be weaker for awhile.

Chemotherapy

  • You may feel nauseated, and you may vomit.
  • You may get very tired and/or weak.You may need to rest a lot.
  • All of these side effects will get better after treatment ends.
  • Some days will be better than other days.

Radiation

  • You may be very tired.
  • Your skin may become red or irritated.
  • These side effects will get better after treatment ends.

For All Treatment

  • No one knows for sure how you will respond.
  • Your doctor can help treat most side effects.
  • Most side effects are temporary.
  • Side effects are to be expected and have nothing to do with the effectiveness of treatment.
  • The side effects are not caused by cancer but by the treatment for cancer.

Participation

Consider finding ways to include your children in your treatment. This can give them a sense of control and also help them feel less isolated. Be sure your kids understand that participation is optional. They shouldn’t feel obligated to do something they don’t want-or are afraid-to do.

Here are some ways that younger kids can participate:

  • Bring you a glass of water.
  • Get a blanket for you.
  • Make a picture to put by your bed.
  • Give you a back rub or a foot massage.
  • Help you pick out a wig, hat, or scarf.

And here are some ways that older kids can participate:

  • Keep you company during a chemo treatment.
  • Accompany you to a doctor’s appointment.
  • Drive you to an appointment.
  • Help you pick out a wig, hat, or scarf.
  • Help you figure out new ways to wrap your head in a scarf.

While including your kids in treatment can be helpful, make sure your children understand that it’s not their job to take care of you. The best thing they can do to help you is to take care of themselves. That means going to school, playing, having fun, and just being a kid.

Change

Breast cancer treatment plans can change. Preparing yourself (logistically and emotionally) for treatment is difficult, and changes in the plan are especially unsettling. Let your children know up front that your plan may change. You don’t have to burden them with an overwhelming list of things that might happen to change your plans. This will make them more anxious, not less. Just let them know that your treatment plan isn’t set in stone. Here are some of the changes you might experience:

  • Longer hospital stay after surgery than originally planned.
  • Hospitalization during chemo.
  • Delay in chemo treatment due to blood chemistry.
  • Unusual side effects from treatment.
  • Longer than anticipated recovery time from surgery or chemo.

Click here for more information about change.

Feelings-Yours and Theirs

Both you and your children may be sharing some of the same feelings during treatment: fear, sadness, frustration, anger, and anxiety. Give yourself and your kids permission to feel bad.

Your children may also feel guilty during your treatment-guilty that they need your help, guilty that they’re not sick instead of you, and guilty that sometimes they’re having fun while you’re sick. Tell your kids that they should not feel guilty. Meeting their needs is still very important, even if it’s done in new ways. They also need your permission to have fun and to be happy.

Preparing Kids for Questions

When preparing your kids for treatment, you might want to prepare them for answering questions about your treatment as well. Teachers, family friends, parents of classmates, and others will inquire about your health. This can be difficult for kids. Sometimes they don’t know what to say. Sometimes they’re tired of repeating the same information. And sometimes they just want to forget about your illness and pretend things are normal. Rather than explaining what’s happening in detail, suggest that your children say something like, “Everything is on track,” or “Things are going as planned.” They can also say, “Can you ask my dad?” or “I’d rather not talk about it right now.”

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