A diagnosis of cancer, including malignant mesothelioma, can affect all aspects of an individual’s life – work, leisure time activity, plans for the future, spirituality and relationships. Children in particular can be sensitive to the news about a loved one’s diagnosis because they may not always be mature enough to deal with their feelings on their own. In these cases, they may need help from their parents, counselors or other trusted adults.
At Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we want to make sure that every member of the family – including the youngest and most tender – gets the support that he or she needs.
Breaking the news
The bottom line in helping children understand what is happening is to be truthful with them. According to the American Cancer Society, the most basic information that all kids need include the name of the disease, the affected part of the body, how it will be treated and how their lives may change.
However, the level of details that you share with them depends on their age. Younger children may need to be reassured that they did not do anything to cause the mesothelioma, and that the condition is not contagious.
If they wonder whether their relative will die from mesothelioma, it is important to remember that although the truth is necessary, that does not mean everything needs to be shared all at once. In this case, it may be better to focus on the present, and save potentially devastating news for when a prognosis is definite.
These discussions are best held in an environment free of potential distractions or interruptions. It will be helpful to plan what to say ahead of time, and emphasize that the lines of communication will always be open for questions or concerns.
All children are unique, so each youngster may react to the news in a different way. Even though they may not always be able to articulate their feelings, they will always show them in some way. Signs that a child may need professional help include chronic sadness, persistent irritability, changing grades, differences in appetite, insomnia and difficulty concentrating.
According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, routine can create a sense of security for children. To that end, mealtimes, bedtimes and other scheduled activities should be maintained. Any changes, such as a visit to the hospital, need to be discussed ahead of time. Furthermore, it is important to maintain discipline and behavioral limits.
Some, but not all, children may like to help out around the house with chores. However, parents need to remember to be realistic about these tasks, and to allow kids to have fun just being kids.