Talking to children about cancer

After someone receives a diagnosis of cancer, they often wonder who they should tell and what they should say. This is especially true for parents who want to protect their children from upsetting news. We now know that trying to keep cancer in the family a secret is almost impossible, and attempting to do that only makes coping with it more difficult. Young children and teenagers can sense mood changes in their parents, which often causes them to imagine what’s happening. Their guesses can sometimes be much worse than the truth.

Parents and children can learn to cope with cancer and its treatments if they receive information, guidance, and support.

We encourage your family to access the following services and resources provided by CancerCare Manitoba.

  •  Counsellors in Psychosocial Oncology, which is part of Patient and Family Support Services, can meet with family members together or children on their own to answer questions and offer information and support. This service is free. Counsellors can also find other resources that may fit your family’s needs.
  • CCMB’s Patient and Family Resource Centre and the Breast and Gyne Cancer Centre of Hope both have books, pamphlets, and videos on how to talk to children about cancer and what reactions to expect. There are also resources designed to be read and viewed by children and teenagers on their own.

The Canadian Virtual Hospice and pan-Canadian partners have also launched is a free, bilingual online resource for parents, guardians, and caregivers who are supporting a grieving child. A series of three learning modules help tackle topics in a straightforward, practical way. They provide strategies, talking points and video clips of families sharing personal stories. It equips parents with the words and confidence needed to help children grieve life’s losses in healthy ways.