Our Expertise for Parents & Their Children
Talking to your children or teen about your cancer diagnosis, upcoming treatments or changes in your condition may feel daunting. Even with access to the guidelines below, you may feel unsure of how to proceed or what words to use to begin such a conversation. You may already have had these discussions with your children or teens, but feel uncertain about how they are coping with your diagnosis, or wonder if they have unanswered questions or worries.
Patients receiving their oncology care at UCLA can avail themselves of the opportunity to consult with our trained clinical staff regarding these important concerns. Our clinicians, many of whom have expertise in working with children and families, can meet with patients to help them prepare to talk to their children (whether toddlers to college age). These consultations can help patients find developmentally appropriate language to answer questions and respond to their children’s needs in ways that can promote better communication throughout the course of treatment.
In addition, patients may also bring their children to the Center for a one time consultation to help assess the child’s understanding of the diagnosis and treatment and address any lingering concerns the child may not have been able to previously share. The clinician facilitates communication about these concerns between the child and parent and assists them to problem-solve ways that all of the members of the family can take care of each other. Lastly, if the clinician’s assessment of the child’s functioning suggests that the child is having particular difficulty with coping or is in need of some ongoing professional support, the clinician can assist the parents to find resources within their community for such support.
Parents make use of this consultation at various points: at time of initial diagnosis when they are grappling with what to tell their children and how, when they want to prepare their child for specific treatments the parent may undergo such as surgery or chemotherapy that will affect how the patient will look or feel, or at any point when the course of treatment is changing. Parents also bring children when they notice a change in their child’s behavior or the child expresses greater worry or fear about their parent’s cancer diagnosis. If you are unsure if the Center’s resources are appropriate for your concerns, please call and speak to a clinician who can help guide you.
Issues addressed with children
- Anxiety about parent’s treatment and provided children with clarifying information and tours of medical environment
- Impact on each child of the parent’s illness and addressing worries/fears about how cancer happens, the difference between “sickness” and “cancer”
- Using drawing, painting and talk to help children express their experiences of having a sick parent and their fears about losing their parent
- Helping children to not be afraid of their sick parent who looks different
- Facilitating opportunity for children to cry, be angry and receive comfort from the parent who is ill as well as the parent who is healthy
- Preparing and supporting children through funeral, memorials, and returning to school after the loss of the parent
- Referrals to Camp Kesem: a special camp for children whose parents have cancer or have died from cancer
Issues addressed with parents
- Explaining a cancer diagnosis, treatments and prognosis in developmentally appropriate ways to children from age 2-18
- Strategies for making sure children’s needs are taken care during parent’s treatments (how to set up a network of support with family and friends, maintaining regular schedules, including extra private time with ill parent)
- How to stay involved and connected with children while parent is declining in health and at end stage of life and physical abilities are limited
- Creating and writing legacies for children such as letters
- How to talk to/ and prepare children for a parent who is dying
- Assisting surviving spouse with grief after death and referrals for grief support groups
One Parent’s Experience
“Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer knows that it doesn’t just impact the actual patient, it deeply impacts the entire family. That is especially true where children are involved– and especially young children who are old enough to know something is going on, but not quite old enough to truly understand everything, or be able to fully articulate their own thoughts, feelings, concerns, fears, and questions. When we told our 7 and 5year old about my cancer diagnosis, we had concerns about how they were coping with the news and any fears they had about what was going to happen to me, and what that meant for them. One of the most important resources we had was being able to talk with Dr. Kauser Ahmed at the UCLA Simms/Mann Center. It was critically important for us to be able to check in with an expert about how they were doing and learn whether or not their reactions were normal and age-appropriate given the circumstances, or if there were indications of more severe distress. It was so reassuring to gain some insight on tools and language we could use to help them process and cope effectively. Most any parent would confirm that you worry about your children far more than you worry about yourself. We very sincerely believe being able to discuss this with Dr. Ahmed was truly one of the most important steps we took in my over-all cancer treatment plan.”
Co-Sponsored by The Alan and Nancy Baer Foundation