The NCCN roundtable discussion titled, “The Child’s Experience When a Parent has Cancer,” left attendees with a better understanding of the child’s experience and a greater commitment toward those left in the wake of a parent’s cancer diagnosis and, in some cases, death.
Moderated by Lillie D. Shockney, RN, Administrative Director of the Johns Hopkins Breast Center and Director of the Johns Hopkins Cancer Survivorship Program, the panel explored how parents and clinicians can and should communicate sensitively but honestly with children whose parent has cancer. Proper preparation is not only critical to the child’s emotional health and future well-being, but is needed by the parents, too, panelists agreed.
Ms. Shockney was first diagnosed with breast cancer when her daughter was 12 and was diagnosed in the contralateral breast 3 years later. She described her daughter’s reactions and questions as revealing (“Mommy, are you going to die?”), touching (“Let me be a kid a little longer”), and even funny (“Will the doctor let you bring the breast home?”).
She incorporated lessons she learned into her work and her life. “Without realizing it, our daughter found our sense of humor, and every day my husband and I made sure we found something funny about the fact that I had been diagnosed with cancer,” she said.
In those dark days, it was important to punctuate these conversations with hope, she added, which takes many different shapes along the cancer journey but always includes some concern over the wellbeing of families once the patient is gone. Honesty does not erode the hope, she emphasized.