Explaining Cancer Diagnosis to Your Children

Headshot Photo of Ovarian Cancer Survivor Jackie 2

Ovarian cancer barreled through Jackie’s life in a whirlwind of diagnosis, surgery, and chemo. Then, just as suddenly, it vanished. Jackie focused on her career and her family. For 17 years, they were her only concern, until ovarian cancer came back. Now she devotes her life to spreading awareness and doing what she does best: taking care of her family.

I wish I had known how to talk to my son about my diagnosis. Perhaps that’s something you never know how to do. How do you tell your child(ren) about your ovarian cancer diagnosis? How do I explain to my son, my son who shouldn’t have to carry this burden, that his mother is dying?

There’s no easy answer, and at different stages of my life, I approached it a bit differently.

When I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, my son was 10 years old. Luckily for me, I did not have to tell him. My husband did. Honestly, I never even thought to explain it to him. At that point I was so overwhelmed with the diagnosis, surgery and treatments. I was just in survival mode.

Wow, thinking back on it, what was I thinking? Not much, I guess, besides trying to fight and put ovarian cancer behind me as quickly as possible. At least my husband was doing enough for both of us. In fact, at that time, my husband, the infamously Nervous Nelly, took over and informed my entire family!

When it came to my recurrence, I did things differently. After all my tests were done, I had a feeling it had come back. So, I told my son and his girlfriend at the time to please come with us to hear what the doctor had to say. They ended up sitting in the waiting room because the room was so small! So as it turned out, I had to tell him after the fact anyway. Not really what I wanted to happen, but sometimes you just have to do the best you can.

I have always tried to be strong for him, but one night when he was home visiting from college, he woke me up asking to talk. He didn’t want to talk about the weather; he was asking to talk about me dying. Well, I have to tell you, I lost it. I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I was so mad. It shouldn’t be this way. I should be comforting HIM. Not him comforting me as I cried that night.

As difficult as it was, in the end, I am so glad we had this talk. We finally could be honest with each other. So, we made a pact: I would not hide things from him and he had to tell me when things were bothering him. That pact has made a world of difference as we move forward and face this disease together as a family.