Talking To Your Children About Your Metastatic Melanoma Diagnosis

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Telling your children about your metastatic melanoma diagnosis is not an easy conversation. “It is most important to not scare them and let them know you are in control of your health care,” according to Amy Wechsler, M.D., a New York dermatologist and spokesperson for The Skin Cancer Foundation. However, the guiding principle should be to tell the truth. Keep reading for tips on talking to your kids about your diagnosis.


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Be prepared to talk to them when you’re ready

You may want to share your diagnosis immediately, but it may help to wait until you have definitive information about your illness, the treatment, and your prognosis. Arm yourself with enough information to answer your children’s questions accurately but don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” if you aren’t sure. Later, you and your child can research the answer.


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Choose your time and place

Choose a time and place which feels comfortable and free from distractions and interruptions. Some families choose after dinner when everyone is naturally together. Others may feel that earlier in the day, when children are well-rested, is a better option. The important part is that you can talk freely, without interruptions.


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Explain that this is a long-term journey

After a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma, you’ll have good days and bad days. But through it all, you still have cancer and need treatment. Your children may be aware of relatives or parents of their friends who have had cancer and are now cancer-free. They may not understand what it means to have metastatic melanoma. It is up to you whether you share your prognosis or whether you explain that you are very sick and will require treatment for an extended time.


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Changes in daily life will happen

Explain how your diagnosis will affect everyday family life. Children thrive with routine and structure and your diagnosis may disrupt that. Knowing what to expect may help them better cope with the changes.


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Explain who will care for them when you can’t

Children are often concerned about who will care for them. Discuss your plan of action: “Your dad will still be here to care for you,” “Mom doesn’t have cancer and can continue to care for you while Dad is sick,” or “Grandmom will be taking you to your activities.” Let them know that no matter what, someone will be there for them.


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It’s no one’s fault

Make sure your children know that they didn’t cause the cancer and it’s no one’s fault that it happened. Children may sometimes think that their actions caused your illness. Emphasize that cancer is not anyone’s fault. Let them also know that cancer is not contagious.


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Explain what cancer is

Your children may have heard about cancer, through television, movies, or on the internet, but they may not really understand what cancer is and how it harms the body. Explain in terms your child can understand based on their age and maturity level what cancer is, how it develops, and what the goal of treatment is. You may want to explain the difference between localized cancer and metastatic cancer and how each affects the body.


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Make the conversation age-appropriate

Keep language simple for younger children. You understand your children’s age and maturity level best. Use concrete terms and reassure them that you are receiving the best care. Young children, especially those between the ages of 5 and 8 years old, often focus on how the illness will affect them. This is developmentally appropriate; don’t get offended that they don’t seem too concerned with your health.


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Talk about how the cancer will affect you

Will it require you to go in the hospital, will you need more rest, will you be in pain? Explain that there may be times you don’t feel good or that you may miss some of their activities. Explain that the treatment may make you feel very bad some days. Let them know how they can help. This allows them to feel they are contributing to your care.


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Be accurate

The unknown or unexplained can frighten children more than the truth can. Be honest without being overly technical or gloomy. For older children, remember they will probably immediately research metastatic melanoma on the internet. Let them know the facts of your situation to combat inaccurate or despairing information they may find during their internet searches. Let them know they can come to you with any questions, too.


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Be prepared for a range of reactions

Your children may experience different emotions and reactions. Some may act out because they don’t know how to process this information. Others may withdraw because this is easier than dealing with the current situation. And still others may try to be the adult and take on a great deal of responsibility. All these reactions are normal.


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Reach out to professionals

If you’re having difficulty planning what to say, or your children are struggling with coping with your news, reach out to professionals for help. Social workers and counselors can help guide you in framing your conversation or can talk with your children after to better help them cope with your metastatic melanoma diagnosis and subsequent changes in the family.