The hardest words I’ve ever had to say.
How do you tell a two year old their mummy is sick?
I think telling your child you have cancer is probably the most difficult conversation you can ever have as a parent. Frank was so young when I was diagnosed (2.5 yrs old) that I was in turmoil as to what to say to him and how to say it. As a mother, your first instinct is to protect your child from anything that could upset them or hurt their feelings, so how do you have a conversation that could do just that?
Some people may choose not to tell them, but for me, it was important Frank knew. Yes he was young, but he is so bright and intuitive that he knew something was going on. He saw me absent for hospital appointments, at times looking sad, tired, emotional, and he needed to understand that it wasn’t anything he had done wrong. He has always needed routine, so I wanted to try and prepare him for the fact that things were going to be a little bit unpredictable for a while. I waited until I had all the details, and decided I just needed to give Frank the basics, he wasn’t going to understand any more than that anyway.
There is no right or wrong way to tell them, it’s not correct or incorrect to not say anything at all… and if it’s a conversation that you’re gearing up to have, then my heart goes out to you. It truly does. I’m not even going to begin to think I have any answers for you, but I thought if I shared how I told my little boy, it might make it easier for others to be able to form a plan of their own.
Don’t overthink it
Go with your gut feeling and tell them what you think they need to know. You might chose not to tell them at all, but I wanted to be honest with Frank, and I wanted to make sure he got all the information from me rather than overhearing something in a conversation that he wouldn’t understand and might confuse him.
What information do you want to give them?
For me, it was just the basics. I wanted him to know I had cancer, what kind, that I was going to have to go into hospital and that I was going to lose my hair. That I might be poorly for a little while but it was eventually going to make me better.
Pick the right time
Once I had all the information I was going to get, I waited until I got my head around it and picked a time that I wasn’t feeling over emotional or upset. I didn’t want him to pick up on any vibes.
Keep it simple and to the point
I personally don’t think you need to share too much, especially to a toddler. They aren’t going to understand what you are saying, no two year old knows the meaning of the word “cancer” so just figure out what you’re going to say before hand and give them time to ask questions if they want.
I’d asked my breast nurse at the hospital for some advice and she gave me a book which I found very difficult to read but it did help me articulate what I was trying to say to Frank. I read it to him the night I told him. It’s called “mummys lump,” if your treatment team haven’t got access to it, you can download it HERE or get the kindle version HERE
As a side note, I also told Franks nursery what was going on. Again, this is completely down to personal preference but I really wanted to make sure that he was going to have the support he needed on a daily basis whilst I was going through treatment. I knew there might be times he was upset or confused or just didn’t understand what was going on and that he might start acting up as a consequence of that. They were absolutely amazing, his key worker even started a journal for me which she kept up to date with pictures and stories of what he had been getting up to on the days I was too ill to pick him up.
It was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had to have, but kids are so resilient. They instil a sense of normality to your life when the rest of your world has been turned upside down. And they make you laugh, even in the hardest of times… and laughter, they say, is the best medicine. It’s very hard to sit and feel sorry for yourself when you’ve got a toddler trying to pick your nose for you.
Until next time… check your boobs