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How to explain cancer to a two year old?

(10 Posts)
LissyGlitter Wed 12-Aug-09 15:58:18

My 2.5yo DD has recently started talking a lot more about the fact my BIL (her uncle) is ill. He has cancer, currently in his brain, and is getting treatment for it. However, he is suffering a lot of pain and other problems, and spends quite a lot of time as an inpatient.

He has been ill probably as far back as she can remember, although he was in remission for a bit so she does remember him with hair and so on.

Up till now, we have just been matter of fact, saying that he has to go and see the doctor and take medicine because he is poorly, but recently she has been bringing up the subject more, asking if a plaster would make him better or if gaviscon or calpol would work. She is also getting pretty worried if I have to go for my antenatal check-ups or if I have to take gaviscon for heartburn or have a sit down due to bellyache or any of the other side effects of pregnancy. She says things like "you poorly, uncle "x" is poorly too, he go and sleep in the doctors bed, you go too?" and looks really worried.

Recently, his condition has been getting worse, and I'm worried how to explain this to her, I really want to say that the doctors will make him better, but what if they don't? If I say he has a sore head, will she then think anyone who has a headache is seriously ill? I don't want to scare her.

MummyDoIt Wed 12-Aug-09 16:01:36

You could try describing the cancer as a nasty lump inside his head that makes his head hurt. That would distinguish it from other types of headache. Tell her his medication or other treatment is to try to make the lump smaller or go away.

I personally feel it is better to tell children the facts, as simply as necessary for their age. If you don't they imagine all sorts, often worse than the truth.

PinkTulips Wed 12-Aug-09 16:05:40

Totally agree with mummydoit, kids cope better with horrible facts than we give them credit for.

I've had to explain ds2 being in SCBU, cats dying, a cat going blind, DPs asthma and many others and i've found that they definitely respond alot better when given a simplistic version of the cold hard facts than when i try and soften it with half truths and wishful thinking.

ThingOne Wed 12-Aug-09 22:09:27

My DSs were 3.8 and 16 mo when I was diagnosed. To start with I talked about my "lump" and the "horrid treatment" which would make me better in the end. I didn't hide anything but I was trying to talk in a way they would understand. About six months later I moved on to talking about cancer and chemotherapy.

I agree that a simplified version of the cold hard facts is the way to go but it is very hard for children to understand an illness like cancer. The treatment makes you ill? Your mum says she's "feeling a bit better today" but you can see she's not "better" as you understand it. It goes on and on. Sometimes things seem OK and sometimes not.

If your BIL is not guaranteed a recovery you do need to avoid offering false hope. Maybe something along the lines of "Not everybody can be made better" or "sometimes people are too poorly to get better".

When my sons have a cold or a cough I do have to explain to them that they do feel rubbish but it's OK, it's "only a cold". I expect this will be the case for a long time. I hope I can avoid them having lifelong health anxiety problems but I can't avoid them being affected by it altogether.

Doyouthinktheysaurus Thu 13-Aug-09 00:27:11

Blimey, my DS's were almost exactly the same ages as yours Thingone when I was diagnosed with cancer. I hope all is well now.

DS1 was 3, DS2 15 months. DS1, we spoke about it in terms of something bad growing in Mummy's tummy which the Doctors will cut out and make Mummy better. DS2 was oblivious to it all I think.

We've always used the word cancer to differentiate it from other kind of illnesses. DS1 does have anxieties but not about his own health, he struggles when I am ill. He gets very needy and insecure, his behaviour deteriorates.

Their Grandad (my FIL) is having Chemotherapy for prostate cancer at the moment and we have had to speak about that. We have just used the basic facts; i.e 'they weren't able to cut all of Grandads cancer out so now he's having some medicine to kill the bad bits which will make Grandad feel a bit poorly and he can't play so much'.

They are aware that some people die from cancer. I always say that Mummy was lucky because they could cut mine out and it's gone.

ThingOne Thu 13-Aug-09 10:00:11

I think I'm going to be OK saurus, but too soon to tell. I had two small secondaries in my liver but scans and blood tests all good atm.

FlightHattendant Thu 13-Aug-09 10:04:00

Thingone, just to let you know my ex boyfriend i mentioned a while back, looks to still be doing great - I googled him, found a photo of him travelling round the US on a motorbike...obviously fit and healthy and so on.
He had liver secondaries as well - this was around 6/7 years ago, must be mid forties by now. smile Know it doesn't prove owt but still...

ThingOne Thu 13-Aug-09 11:06:52

I'll choose to believe it proves everything FlightH!

I don't have cancer at the moment. That's a good start, right grin?

I'm quite close to my mid forties but maybe as I've "missed" two years I should go back to being forty again.

FlightHattendant Thu 13-Aug-09 11:32:41

Yes I think that is a v good idea smile

Great to hear you're NED. Hopefully that's the last you'll see of it.

Doyouthinktheysaurus Thu 13-Aug-09 12:01:38

I'm glad you are doing ok at the moment Thingone

Hopefully you will stay that waysmile

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