Skip to main content


Person Typing on Laptop

Should Children Know How Cancer Affects A Family Member?

Helping children understand a cancer diagnosis can be a conversation and an activity as simple as decorating a pumpkin.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so you probably have seen a lot of pink ribbons.  It is possible that children are curious, wondering what the pink ribbon represents.  According to an Anticancer Research (2017) study, “approximately 2.85 million children under 18 live with a parent affected by cancer”.  It is inevitable that some children who are part of Operation Xcel have family members who have been diagnosed with breast cancer now or in the past. It is common for parents to ignore sharing this information with their children during such times, assuming that they won't be able to understand the situation. But children, regardless of their age, are good at picking up their parents' distress, even when their parents think they are hiding it well. Sometimes, children may respond to the news of a family member's breast cancer better than their parents expect. However, the key to helping them understand is through open communication.

Parents should have an honest conversation with their children, explaining things to them in a way that the children can understand. It is recommended that parents use the word "cancer" to describe the disease and avoid using any other term. Children should be informed about how the disease will affect their family members and what the expected outcome could be (prognosis). With this information, children will better understand what they are sensing and may be more open to help psychologically and socially.

It is also important that families inform the school about the diagnosis so that the school can provide the necessary support and understanding to children whose parents are affected by cancer. Operation Xcel encourages open communication and interaction with the parents of our students. We encourage families to inform us if their family is affected by cancer so that we can anticipate and respond appropriately to any behavioral or emotional changes in their child.

The Educators Spin on It website includes some useful information and activities that may help children you know, including your own. The resources are a way to support each other as we continue to hope for a cure for breast cancer. 

Click on the following links for more information and useful resources for tips and toolkits to enlighten children about how a family member's cancer diagnosis may affect their lives and how to respond to it if it does.