Talking to Kids About Cancer

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A cancer diagnosis can be devastating, and we understand how difficult this life-changing event can be to children and families. Experiencing a family member with a cancer diagnosis is challenging at any age, but for children it can be hard to grasp just what’s happening. It can also be difficult for parents to share the information with age appropriate teaching that helps kids understand their loved one’s illness. These resources are sure to help.

Website Resources

American Cancer Society (ASC)
Helping Children When Someone They Know Has Cancer

ASCO Patient Education Material (American Society of Clinical Oncology)
Talking With Your Children About Cancer

Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer

Cancer Support Community
Frankly Speaking About Cancer: What do I Tell the Kids?

Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Talking to Children About Cancer

National Cancer Institute (NCI)
When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens

Camps That Offer Support to Children Who Have a Family Member With Cancer

Camp Kesem
Camp Kesem is a national program of free summer camps for children who have been affected by cancer because their parent, grandparent or close relative has been diagnosed with cancer. The counselors are university students who fundraise for the organization, and they are committed to ensuring every child who has a parent with a cancer diagnosis, or has lost a parent to cancer, is never alone.

Resources to Assist Educators to Support You, Your Child, and Your Family
Livestrong at School – When a parent, sibling, family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer, school age children need support. Livestrong has created a curriculum designed to help educators, parents and caregivers teach children about cancer in a way that is inspiring and empowering. Livestrong at School offers age-appropriate lessons for grades K-12 to help children understand the cancer journey.

Mass General Hospital’s Toolkit to Help Educators Support Children of Parents with Serious Illness – A parent’s serious illness is one of the most difficult challenges a child can face. This toolkit is meant to be shared with educators, and has three sections, one for the Educator, which will be helpful when meeting with the parent who is ill, for observing for behavioral changes, or to respond to others who are asking questions and offer to help. One section is for the parent, which gives suggestions for how to help their children, and how to communicate with the school and school community. And, lastly, one section that helps the older child communicate with their parents.


Here are some books that can help your child cope with your family’s cancer diagnosis.

Punk Wig
A parent’s cancer diagnosis and the chemotherapy treatments that follow can be scary for any child. This heartwarming story will delight all readers as they watch this mother and daughter face the unknown with the help of one very bright, very spunky wig.

When Mommy Had a Mastectomy
This book was developed to help other women with young children who are also facing breast cancer. It tells the story of a mother and daughter discovering new ways to show they care despite a painful recovery.

My Parent has Cancer, and it really Sucks
Father-daughter team Marc Silver and Maya Silver authored this book to serve as a guide for teens whose parents have cancer. The book is based on personal experience, the guidance of experts, and the stories of over 100 teens.

You are My Best Medicine
Julie Aigner Clark wrote this book after her own journey with cancer. The story connects the ways her child helped care for her mother and nurtured her through her treatments with how mothers care for and nurture their children through the early years of life.

Mom Has Cancer
The sensitively written “Let’s Talk About It” books encourage preschool-age and early-grades children to explore their feelings, deal with problems that trouble them, and understand others who have problems of their own.

Jeanie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer
Jeannie Ann is a typical six-year-old. When she learns her grandma has breast cancer, it brings up the fears, questions, emotions, and misunderstandings that come with facing a medical challenge. With her loving family by her side, Jeannie Ann learns about what cancer can bring – tumors, mastectomies, chemotherapy, pain, and loss, but also hope.

Nowhere Hair
The little girl in NOWHERE HAIR knows two things: Her mom’s hair is not on her head anymore, so therefore it must be somewhere around the house. After searching the obvious places, the story reveals that her mother, although going through cancer treatment, is still silly, attentive, happy, and sometimes very tired and cranky. She learns that she didn’t cause the cancer, can’t catch it, and that Mommy still is very much up for the job of mothering.

Cancer Hates Kisses
Mothers are superheroes when they’re battling cancer, and this empowering picture book gives them an honest yet spirited way to share the difficult experience with their kids. With its plain text and heartwarming illustrations, Cancer Hates Kisses is relatable to any type of cancer. This book is told from the perspective of a child whose mom is facing cancer.

How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear?
This book helps children understand how to help others going through cancer treatment and is written by a survivor of teenage leukemia. children―and adults―for dealing with a sick friend. When someone dear is dealing with illness, it’s difficult to know what to do or say. The actor Vanessa Bayer experienced this firsthand when she was treated for childhood leukemia. In her first children’s book, she offers gentle, reassuring advice that people of all ages will appreciate.

Our Dad Is Getting Better: When Treatment Ends, Healing Begins
This book is written by and illustrated by three children ― Alex, Emily, and Anna Rose Silver ― about their father’s experience recovering from cancer treatments and looks at the recovery that’s needed even after chemo, and bonus, it’s written about a dad, which can be hard to find. This book is geared toward children aged 4-8.

The Hope Tree
This book by Wendy Harpham, M.D. is about a fictional support group for animals whose mothers have cancer, and addresses common cancer experiences, worries and coping mechanisms of children.

Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings
The Butterfly Kisses is a story, as told through the eyes of a little boy as he explains his mom’s cancer to other children and lends itself to a simple and clear understanding of cancer. It also addresses usual questions children might have.

The Year My Mother Was Bald
This book is great for older kids who want to understand cancer from a scientific standpoint. Author, Ann Speltz, includes a lengthy list of resources that might help families during their cancer journey.



The James, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Talking with Children about a Parent’s Cancer Diagnosis, Jennifer Hansen-Moore, Ph.D., ABPP, Pediatric Psychologist, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, (2015)

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