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When a parent has a serious illness, children hurt, too.

The American Cancer Society estimates that about a third of patients with cancer have school-aged or adolescent children. Fortunately, a host of resources are available to help parents help their kids. First and foremost, tell your children the truth. If children aren’t told the truth, their imaginations are likely to conjure up even worse scenarios, and they may blame themselves.

When a child isn’t told what’s happening—but can see the evidence all around him—he can’t express how he’s feeling. If children can’t trust what you tell them when the news is scary, they’ll question whether you’re telling the truth when there is good news.  The appropriate time is often when a parent is going into the hospital for surgery, and a relative is coming to take care of the children. Use this time to explain your diagnosis and treatment plan in age-appropriate language.

We found the following tremendous story of breast cancer survivor Julie Aigner and her experience explaining her diagnoses to her young children from our partners at iVillage.

Sierra and Aspen sat across from their parents at the dining room table. It wasn’t dinner time, and the look on their mother’s face let the 6- and 9-year-old girls know something was wrong. Julie Aigner Clark decided to be blunt.

“Mommy has cancer,” she said. “But I don’t have the kind you die from.”

Since children need and crave structure, try to keep things as normal as possible. If a relative offers to help with the kids, have her stay at your home instead of the other way around. The ability to stay in their own bed, play with their friends, go to school, and participate in extra-curricular activities makes a big difference in helping children cope with the other changes in routine, such as doctor’s appointments or a parent who is too tired to play or is losing hair.

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