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Talking to your child / teen about having a solid tumor

 

Helping your child/teen understand her solid tumor can help her cope better with treatment. It is important to tell your child/teen about the tumor and answer her questions in honest, simple terms. If you do not give your child/teen information in words she can understand, she will be left to imagine what is going to happen. These thoughts can often be scarier than the truth.

Many different staff members will be involved in helping your child understand her disease and treatments. A certified child life specialist is one of the team members who will work closely with your family. Throughout your stay at St. Jude, this staff member can help your child and their siblings understand about treatment and adjust to being in the hospital.

The following ideas may help you talk with your child/teen about a solid tumor. We suggest that parents use the words “cancer” and “tumor” openly with their child/teen. It will help her become more familiar with the words and feel more at ease when asking questions.

Using words that your child / teen will understand

Verbal Toddler: Use words your child knows such as “boo-boo” or “owie.” Point to the area of your child’s body where the tumor is located. It is OK to say the words “cancer” and “tumor” around your toddler. This will help your child feel more at ease when people around her use these words.

Preschooler: Again, using the words “cancer” and “tumor” will help your preschooler become more familiar with the words. At this age, it may be helpful to explain it by naming the area whre the tumor is growing. For Example: “Inside your tummy is sick.”

Early School-Age: A school-age child who has not learned about cells may understand if you say, “A lump that is sick grew inside your body, and it is not supposed to be there. This lump is called a tumor or cancer.” Be sure to state where the tumor is in the body.

School-Age: Many children at this age have begun learning about cells. You may want to explain that a tumor is made up of “a group of sick cells that are all lumped together.”

Teens: At this age, your teen may want to sit in on talks with the doctor to hear about the tumor and treatment in-depth. But, it is still important to talk about the things that are said during these discussions. As with all ages, use the correct terms for the illness and treatments.

Keep in mind

Talking about your child/teen’s illness can bring up many questions. Talking freely about coming to the hospital and about treatment can help her to cope.

At all age levels, it is important to assure your child/teen that the illness is not contagious; she cannot give it to anyone or get it from anyone else. Also, this illness is not a punishment; nothing your child/teen did or did not do could have made this illness happen.

Your child/teen may have a family member or friend who has had cancer or she may have heard stories about cancer. For this reason, it would be good to tell her that there are many types of cancer. Cancer can be in different parts of the body, and each person’s cancer is different. Each cancer patient takes different kinds of medicines that work best for that person’s cancer and body type.

Questions?

To learn more about how you can talk to your child/teen about a solid tumor, call the Child Life department at (901) 595-3020. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3020. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2STJUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3020.

This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

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