What Are My Children’s Initial Fears When Learning of My Breast Cancer Diagnosis?

Question: What are my children's initial fears when learning of my breast cancer diagnosis?

Answer: I think the first thing to realize is that fearfulness and anxiousness on the part of your children is to be expected. The particular nature of the fear, to a large extent, will be determined by the age of your children. Younger children, for example, can be quite overwhelmed by fear of losing you as a parent. And, in approaching younger children, it's important to let them set the pace in terms of information. Information should be offered to younger children and then, carefully gauging their response, pull back and allow them to break off the conversation when they're beginning to feel too anxious by the content. Younger children and even middle-aged children -- meaning from 9 to 12 -- will come back to you periodically for more information.

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So it's normal in these situations for children to experience fear, especially younger children, and to move back and forth between questioning and avoiding. Avoiding in the situation is not bad, and it helps the younger child manage the potentially overwhelming anxiety that can accompany the situation. The most important thing is to keep an open feeling of communication in the family, to be accessible to your children, and to communicate to them quite clearly that discussion of these matter is okay and it's part of what you do as a family.

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