How to Talk to Your Kids About Cancer
- Mom, 43, of two children who struggled with stomach pains and constipation initially thought she had eaten too much or was dealing with hard stool. However, scans revealed stage 4 bowel cancer with a tumor the size of a kiwi in her colon.
- This kind of cancer develops in your large intestine or bowel (colon) or the end of your intestine (rectum). It starts when abnormal lumps called polyps turn cancerous.
- A colonoscopy, which is recommended for people beginning at age 45, looks for polyps before they become cancer. Any polyps found can be removed in the procedure.
- Parents living with cancer are encouraged to be as honest with their children as possible when explaining their condition with language that they can understand at their age.
A mother of two who suffered through seemingly endless stomach pains thought her discomfort stemmed from overeating. However, her doctors discovered she was dealing withstage 4 bowel cancer with a tumor the size of a kiwi. Despite her diagnosis, the 43-year-old mom was more concerned about the impact her cancer diagnosis would have on her children.
After a cancer diagnosis, talking about it can be challenging, especially when children are on the other end of the conversation. SurvivorNet has some tips to help you through this difficult and emotional stage of the journey.Read More
“I thought it was just because I had been drinking and eating too much during the holiday season,” she explained to FEMAIL, a subsidiary of U.K.-based news outlet the Daily Mail.
However, her stomach discomfort and pains continued, which caused her increasing concern.
“I thought maybe I had twisted my bowel or something, but cancer was the last thing on my mind,” Hunter said.
“Looking back, when I was constipated, I could feel the lump in my stomach from the outside, but just thought it was a hard stool stuck in there,” she continued.
She attempted to get some answers from her doctor, who performed a CT scan.
“He looked at me, held my hand, and said, ‘You’ve got bowel cancer. It’s a big tumor, and it’s spread to your liver.’ And that’s not what I was expecting to hear at all,” Hunter said.
The 43-year-old makeup artist admitted she thought bowel cancer was an “old person’s disease” but quickly learned that “cancer doesn’t discriminate.”
“Every person I’ve met with the same cancer has been really young and fit,” she said.
Bowel cancer is also commonly called colorectal cancer in the U.S. This kind of cancer develops in your large intestine or bowel (colon) or the end of your intestine (rectum). It starts when abnormal lumps called polyps turn cancerous. Cancer in stage 4 has spread beyond its point of origin within the body.
Tiredness can be a symptom of colorectal cancer, along with weakness, cramps, and gas.
After her diagnosis, she quickly underwent surgery to remove the tumors. Her doctors removed the kiwi-sized tumor from her colon. It had been growing for more than half a year. Two more tumors were also discovered growing on her liver. Hunter needed aggressive chemotherapy shortly after surgery to treat the cancer. She underwent six rounds of chemo for several months. Luckily, her chemo treatment helped shrink the tumors. So far, Hunter has undergone four surgeries over seven months. However, her cancer treatment wasn’t her biggest concern. Instead, she worried about her children and how to explain her diagnosis to them.
“When I was diagnosed, I was really scared and thought, ‘I’ve got to beat this,’” a determined Hunter said, focused on being there for her children.
She now has a stoma and a colostomy bag that collects her stool.
Hunter said she struggled to tell her kids she has cancer. This is an emotional experience for parents diagnosed with cancer. Experts tell SurvivorNet that the best advice is to prepare your children for what might happen in the future, but you want to be gentle with this sensitive subject.
Helping Patients Understand Colon Cancer
Tips for Parents Struggling to Talk About Their Cancer
If parents are nervous before this conversation, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin said children can pick up on their emotions, so it may help to check in with yourself beforehand.
“If at this moment, you are feeling scared, it might be helpful to calm and soothe yourself first before speaking to your child,” she said.
“Having these conversations may bring up deep emotions you may have stowed away. There is nothing wrong with showing our emotions to children as long as we can remain calm and give them a sense of safety,” she said.
Helping them feel safe can give them tools and strategies to manage their feelings about the situation.
“I love using my childhood self when explaining anything to children,” Strongin said. “I might say, ‘When I was your age, I remember feeling scared of many things, but one thing that always helped is taking three very deep breaths and telling my body it will be okay.’
“It is these kinds of dialogues that allow our children to feel safe and in control.”
WATCH: Talking to kids about cancer.
There is no single way to discuss cancer with children, as widower John Duberstein explained to SurvivorNet.
Duberstein lost his wife to breast cancer, but the couple discussed her cancer with their children before she passed away.
“I think it’s really important to be open with the kids as much as you can, as much as you feel like they can handle,” Duberstein explained.
“When Nina started to look less like a cancer patient, the kids started to make unspoken assumptions about where Nina stood,” Duberstein said.
He went on to say as parents, they had to counter false narratives, which developed in their children’s heads about their mother’s prognosis. They had to remind them her cancer was not going away gently.
“It was hard for them to hear even though they’d already been prepared,” he further explained.
Understanding Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer happens when polyps are not removed and become cancerous. It can take up to 10 years for a colon polyp to become cancerous, according to SurvivorNet experts.
Fortunately, most colorectal cancers can be prevented if you are regularly screened. SurvivorNet experts recommend a colonoscopy for colon screening.
A colonoscopy involves a long, thin tube attached to a camera to examine the colon and rectum. If polyps are discovered, they can be removed during the procedure. If no polyps are found, your next screening will not be needed for ten years.
The American Gastrointestinal Association, the American Cancer Society, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend colon cancer screening begin at age 45. However, it would be best to talk with your doctor to determine the best time to screen for you.
WATCH: Colon cancer screening.
Colorectal cancer is staged depending on how advanced it is and if it has spread to other body parts.
- Stage 1 cancers are those in which the tumor has only penetrated the superficial layers of the colon and hasn’t gotten into the deeper layers.
- Stage 2 cancers involve the deeper layers of the colon wall
- Stage 3 cancers have spread to the lymph nodes around the colon
- Stage 4 cancers have spread to other organs, such as the liver, lungs, or peritoneal cavity (the space in your abdomen that holds your intestines, stomach, and liver)
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you are facing a colon cancer diagnosis, here are some questions you may ask your doctor.
- What are my treatment options based on my diagnosis?
- If I’m worried about managing the costs of cancer care, who can help me?
- What support services are available to me? To my family?
- Could this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?
- What are the risks and possible side effects of treatment?