How To Tell Your Kids You Have Cancer

04/23/2015 09:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015
Heather Chauvin

On December 21, 2013, after experiencing some discomfort and observing my distended abdomen, I surrendered to the fact that I had to put my own health back on my priority list.

My first instinctive reaction was, "I'm going to die."

My second was, "How am I suppose to tell my kids?"

Even though I was the one in crisis, I still found myself worrying about everyone else. Their needs and how I would manage it all now that I had no choice but to take care of myself.

I was diagnosed with stage 4 Burkitt's Lymphoma. A rare and rapidly growing cancer that was now taking over my abdomen and growing daily. Within a few weeks, I looked like I was nine month pregnant.

I was resistant to receiving chemotherapy because I was terrified of losing my hair. It was part of how I identified myself, and losing it meant I couldn't hide behind it anymore.

So, how do you tell your children you have Cancer?

The truth is there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to have these vulnerable talks with anyone, especially a child, and it doesn't end with one conversation. It's an ongoing learning opportunity for all of you.

Children are smart, intuitive and very empathic. Their connection to you runs deep. Before you tell them, they will already have sensed that something is up.

So, the question is not simply 'how do I tell my children?", but instead, "How do I prepare myself to face this daunting conversation?"

1. Check in with how you feel about the diagnosis.
Are you scared? Worried? Do you feel optimistic that everything will work out? Write it out. Spend time with your own feelings first.

2. Honor what you feel.
If it's fear, feel the fear. Don't try to run from it. You're human, it's OK to be scared. If you want to cry, cry. If you're angry be angry.

3. Start implementing BIG emotion coping strategies
When I was first diagnosed, I listened to Abraham Hicks' "Getting Into The Vortex" physical well-being meditation for 24 hours straight. With headphones on, it was always playing in the background. This allowed me to slowly shift my attention towards the possibility of what I could do to improve my own health while gathering a team of experts to support me. Meditation calmed me.

4. Share as much as they need to know
Children at different ages have different levels of awareness. One friend, who has been living with cancer since his girls were little, said they are curious why dad has a lot of appointments, but they do not really know or understand what cancer is. To them, it's normal.

Small children have lots of questions. They are very curious. Answer there questions and when in doubt, find a local organization that provides counseling to children in these situations.

Older children may tend to turn to anger or shut down. They often want to know, what does this mean for them? Will they get sick, too? These are normal concerns.

5. Get connected to how you want to feel
When your health is in crisis, everything around you feels like it is in survival mode. It's very easy to slip into fear, doubt and overwhelm.

Stop what you are doing and align your actions with how you want to feel. My go-to book was Danielle's Laporte's Desire Map. It was a life saver when it came to focusing on what was really important during treatment.

6. Don't assume the worst
I think we all forget that we will die someday. It's easy to get wrapped up in the stress of daily life, but remember, terminal or not, you still have your breath to shift the way you feel. There are a lot big emotions and life transitions that come with a diagnosis, but you still have life to live.

In the end, it's not about how to tell your children you have cancer, but how to learn how to live in the moments you've been blessed with.


Our children won't remember the things we bought them. They will remember how we made them feel.

I've been granted with more time to live. I don't know what tomorrow brings, no one does. I am grateful for the fear, for the diagnosis and for the pain I didn't know I was capable of handling... because now I know anything is possible and I feel more connected to my children than ever.

So, how do you want your children to remember you? Start being that person today.

Share in the comments below. I would love to hear from you.



PS: Today I am healthier than ever and committed to helping others find hope and possibility in the midst of chaos. Follow me on Facebook and check out my new pixie cut.