Lung Cancer

Telling the children and grandchildren

Decisions about whether or not to discuss a serious illness with others can be difficult. The need for support has to be weighed up against the desire for privacy. Wanting to protect certain people from distress may also be a consideration. Some of the hardest questions arise when talking to children about cancer.

Almost all those with lung cancer interviewed here were in favour of an open, honest approach. Most had teenage or grown up children. One man said that children will know that something is wrong and that if they are not told it leads to complications later on. He also asserted that children deserve to be told.

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One woman said that she needed to tell her children (who were aged 12, 18 and 20), particularly because she was going to lose her hair while having chemotherapy. She said that she had found a brilliant book at the hospital called “How to tell the children”. 

People were adamant that older children should be told the truth, even though this was not always easy. One woman was a bit reluctant to tell her grown-up children at first but concluded that she had to tell them because they were well educated and would associate chemotherapy with cancer anyway. A mother of a 12-year-old child said that if you try to hide the facts you will 'slip up' and the children will 'catch you out'.

Children react in different ways when they receive news that a parent has cancer. They may be desperately upset at first, and some may find it hard to talk about the situation. However, many people said that their children had been supportive, (see 'Feelings of stigma, shame and guilt about having lung cancer' and 'How it affects family and friends').

Young children are most concerned with immediate events and may need only simple explanations. Some people talked about their conversations with their grandchildren and the way in which they and their children had explained the situation. Two recalled discussions they had with grandchildren who were aged eight and nine.

One man pointed out that all children are different and that when deciding what to say you have 'got to pick your child'. He recalled the conversation he had had with his nine-year-old grandchild about death.

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One woman who was concerned about the stigma associated with cancer, decided not to 'burden' her young grandchildren with news of her disease. Her daughter spoke to the children's teachers about the situation in case the grandchildren 'inadvertently' became aware of the situation.

Last reviewed May 2016.

Last updated May 2012.


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