Of all the difficult subjects to broach with your children, having an inherited cancer gene in the family must be among the most daunting.
Ever since I made a television documentary called Children can Cope, which was about being truthful with children who have cancer, I’ve believed parents and carers should be honest with kids.
Children can cope with anything, but not dishonesty, furtiveness and embarrassment.
While most inherited cancer genes don’t increase the risk of cancer until adulthood, many parents will want to speak to their children earlier than that.
Children in families with a gene that can cause cancer to develop in childhood or teenage years are offered genetic testing at an early age so that they can have screening or treatments to prevent disease development.
Parents know their children best and can decide when to share their own test results. Not only will a child’s age and personality decide this, but also other things that may be going on in the family.
Every family is unique and each family has to decide what’s best for them.
Talking to your children isn’t just about giving information, it’s also the opportunity to listen to their feedback, answering questions and correcting any misunderstandings they have.
Before you do talk, however, you may want to give yourself time to adjust to the news and decide if you want to talk to your children alone, with your partner or other family members, and think about how much information you want to give.
Be careful not to give too much information. I suggest you ask your child something like, “Have you heard something about that?” or “Why do you ask that?”, before you decide how much detail you give.
Be prepared for questions and show that you’ll always be willing to answer them. I firmly believe in using correct words rather than slang such as “boob job” for mastectomy, because it may lead to a misreading of the seriousness of your cancer.
Choose a moment when your child is relaxed and mention positive messages such as cures are getting more and more common as treatments are getting better and better.
Try to be open about your feelings and it’ll help them open up about their feelings so you can share and reassure.
Your genetics specialist can give you more information on talking to children and teenagers about your genetic test results, and there’s an excellent Macmillan Cancer Support booklet that will help you navigate the choppy waters of talking about cancer.