Explaining to young children


I was diagnosed in late May and am now waiting for a sentinal node biopsy (plus biopsy on a lump in the other breast) on 4th July and then chemo starting 16th July. In the meantime, I’m taking tamoxifen.

I have one daughter who’s just turned 4 and although she knew I’d been to hospital for some tests it was only on Tuesday that I told her that I had an illness called cancer. I said that I had a lump in my booby that was making it poorly and sore and that the doctors were trying to make Mummy better. She seemed to just accept it but after more scans today, which she knew about, she asked me this evening if I was going to die. This stumped me abit and I’m not sure I answered her very well.

I’ve got the book “Mummy’s Lump” which looks really good at explaining things as a story but because I’m not visibly ill and won’t be having any treatment for a while I’ve been reluctant to start reading it to her. If I start talking about surgery and hair falling out then she will expect that to happen fairly soon and when it doesn’t, I think she’ll just end up confused and upset.

Thankfully her Nursery are being really supportive and have come up with some great ideas to help but again for when she knows abit more.

So it all feels abit of a waiting game.

I love her to bits and is one of my main concerns in all of this, so I’d be really grateful for any tips or advice whether it be on what to say or timing??


Hi Sarah

Mine were 8 and 6 when I got diagnosed, I decided to tell them immed I had BC as was booked for emergency mastectomy 7 days later and didn’t want them hearing via gossips but left other details as to when it was needed. I am always open as possible and my kids are free to ask me what ever, but I was passionate that my mum or mates were not allowed in the house crying around them and no whispering. Mine have taken it differently but because we have been quite open with them but kept it quite close to home thay have not had their school days or after school clubs affected, they have their space to be kids.

My advise is to tell them the basics, let them see what they ask to see, I remember when I got home from mast mine were terrified but after a couple of days I asked them if they wanted to see my scar, daughter said yes and sighed relief as she thought I would have massive hole, son said no and I respected his decision, a couple of days later he changed his mind (he was 6 year old) but he was my little trooper thru chemo, however quiet I was when being sick he was standing outside the bathroom door like my little body guard.

Sometimes the unknown causes more fear, but then again overlaod can cause stress too. Kids will be your saviour thru treatment, mine always kepts me going escpecially with their extra cuddles and kisses.

Take care, Debbiex

Hi Sarah

I was dx on 30th April. My girls are 4 and 2. I did ok with telling them stuff until it got to the chemo and I struggled with how to deal with hair loss, luckily ‘Mummy’s Lump’ was published just in time!

We told them Mummy had a sore breast, when I went to hospital they knew that I was having the bad bits cut out and that they had to be gentle with me in hospital and at home afterwards.

Kids pick up on everything, sometimes seeming to have satelite dish ears. Of course they notice more phone calls and visitors to the house, and the florist’s worth of flowers that have arrived, and that I’m home because I’m poorly rather than at work, but they really do seem to take it in their stride.

My eldest has asked lots of questions, the hardest of which is Mummy when I grow up will I get breast cancer? I was ready for the are you going to die one, but not that.

So far, it seems ok, but I think the worst part for me will be radiotherapy as I have to fly to and stay at the hospital I’m having it as we live on an Island and will be away 5 weeks, home at weekends, only a few weeks after eldest starts primary school.

Good luck with yours


Hi Sarah

Mine were 1, 9 and 16 and I just decided to answer questions as they asked them. I found that they all came to me and asked little bits at a time which I explained as simply as I possiblly could and I found that it worked very well.

My daughter (9) came to me and asked to see my mastectomy scar. I tried my best not to look shocked as it was totally out of the blue in the middle of a normal conversation as were most of her questions and tried to look matter of fact about the whole thing and explained to her what it looked like and then showed her, to which she replied ‘is that it, gosh Mum its fine isnt it’?

My 16 yr old son suprised me as he had a friend who had a brother who had been through cancer and he already knew more than me about chemo etc. He was of course worried and made me promise to tell him if things started to go wrong, I of course agreed and this seemed to be enough for him. He knew no news was good news.

My 1 yr old never even made strange when I lost all my hair, but he noticed his nan had changed the colour slightly of hers! All I said to him when I knew my hair was getting ready to fall out was that I had taken medicine to make me better but that it would make Mummys hair fall out. As he got a little older he asked me where my other boob was and I told him that when I was sick and had lost my hair the doctors had taken it away, he then replied ‘why dont you buy a new one in Asda’?

I found that by staying as calm and as matter of fact about the whole situation and treatments etc as I possibly could (on the outside at least) in front of the children, they took my lead and seemed reasured by that.

Sending you lots of hugs

Neenie xx

Hi Sarah

My boys are 9 and 11, I told them that Mummy had a small lump that was cancer and the doctor was going to cut it out and I might be in hospital and a bit poorly for a while. The youngest asked me if I was going to die and I said that we will all die one day, but hopefully that will be a long time away.

I have shown the eldest the scar on my back from my LD op, but I didn’t see the point of showing them my mastectomy scar, although I would show them if they asked. I want them to know what is going on but not too much detail, I think it would be too much for them and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. I don’t want them to worry. It has worked really well so far they don’t seem at all affected.

I will explain to them in a couple of weeks time just before my chemo starts, that Mummy is going to have some medicine to make sure that all of the cancer is gone and this will make my hair fall out and might make me feel poorly again. Hopefully they will take it in their stride.

Although I think they need to know what is happening, I don’t see the need to give them all of the information and gory bits. I have found it has been difficult for adults to not get confused with the things I have told them. I will answer any questions they have truthfully if they choose to ask any. At the end of the day they are children and they don’t need to be burdened with worry and fear for the future. They just need to have fun.

As Neenie says they will take their lead from you and if you take it in your stride, so will they.





I was DX dec 07 and have 3 little ones at the time they were 1,4, & 7. I told them too i had a spot in my booby that was bad and had to be removed. i didn’t use the word cancer with the eldest but she figured it out once seeing me on the websites etc., I haven’t told them the potential risks of cancer and it is a life threatening illness as i don’t think they need to know at such a young age and i am trying to keep things as normal as possible for them during chemo. I do tell them when i go for chemo and told them its special medicine to make sure all everything is clear. I used hammer beeds when explaining chemo to my daughters. I put a bunch together and said just pretend this is a spot. i removed all the beeds bar one and told her that just in case theres a little bit left the chemo is going to zap the last one.

your daughter has asked a very deep question about death at such a young age and i feel you need to re-assure her and tell her NO! your not going to die because you are her mommy your just having special medicine to make you better. As for the hair i told my daughters i was going to loose my hair for a few months and look like daddy. i didn’t go on about it too much until i noticed it started to fall out and then showed her and its amazing how kids accept things. My personal view wa not to bomb bard them with too much info too soon that they don’t even know because they are kids and you want them to feel loved and safe.

i know its a difficult one but we are all here to help and i hope this helps.

Take care

I don’t have children so forgive me if you think I am intruding. I was once a child and know what it feels like to be misled. I think it is wrong to answer a young child’s question about whether you are going to die with a categorical ‘no’…imagine how your child will feel if things go pear shaped and you do die quickly. Plus children who are old enough to ask questiosn about death are also old enough to hear adults talkign about cnacer and death and they will be frightened anyway.

Children do have a concept of death at quite a young age, and I think somehow you have to find words which are age appropriate but truthful.

best wishes


Hi Sarah

You’ve done the right thing telling your daughter . Its when they don’t know whats going on and they try and piece bits of the puzzle together in their head that they get all confused and upset.

I was dx last janaury at 28 with a 9 year old daughter and from day one told her what as happening. Her nan (my mum) had uterine cancer 3 years ago so i was able to refer to my mums treatment and told her that mummy was poorly like nanny was and that I would need to have medicine like nanny had that would make me poorly. She was a bit worried I think when my hair fell out but we soon made jokes about it and called it mummys baby ostrich head. One day I let her draw all over my head with white board marker pens and she drew big flowers and all sorts.

I can’t really advice on what to say when asked ‘is mummy going to die’ as my daughter never asked me that. I think she just assumed that because Nanny was still here i would be too.
If my daughter did ever ask me this out right. I think I would just say something like ‘the doctors and medicine are trying to make mummy better’ and leave it at that. That way your kind of beating around the question without actaully answering it.

Kids are amazing when they have to deal with something such a cancer. The adults around us crumble but kids bounce back and have so much acceptance. My daughter amazed me. My mum also found a lump 1 week after me so she didn’t have to deal with just mum going through ops and chemo etc but her nanny too.

You’ve done the right thing and i’m sure your daughter will surprise you just as my daughter has me.


Mandy xxx


Hi Sarah, hope all is going well in explaining to your littleone.

JaneRA, I appreciatey your comments but i am suppose i am just going on about my own experiences. I don’t want my kids to feel vunerable or frightened about the future and need to reassure them. I feel it also depends on the age they are as my 4 year old asks different questions to the 8 year old and they both show different types of emotions to the whole BC. I think the older they are the more worried they get yet the younger they accept answers alot easier.


Hi Sukes

Just wanted to say that there is no right or wrong way to deal with this. Sometimes when we are put on the spot we say what we want them to hear. They are children after all and they don’t need to be worrying that we might die.

Hopefully we will all be here for many years to come and all this will pale into insignificance in the future.

Lots of love



I answered as Mandy did that the doctors thought they could make Mummy better, I have never said for definate.

I did tell them about my mastectomy, but some time after I had healed a bit because it just felt so odd not tellling them. My son (10) did ask to see the scar but my daughter (8) didn’t.

Early on I made sure that I made time for them individually and let them know that they could ask whatever questions they wanted to.

They managed incredibly well and continue to do so.

with love


Hi all,

Just wanted to let you know, if you haven’t seen the ‘sticky’ post at the beginning of the discussions BCC are holding a special Live Chat this coming Wednesday, 25th June between 8 and 9 p.m. where you can discuss your issues regarding children and your BC. To join in on Wednesday just follow the links for ‘live chat’.

Kind regards,
Jo, Facilitator

Hi Jo…I thought the chat on Wednesday was for secondaries Mums only? (It also mentions a few messages into the sticky there’s hopefully going to be a live chat for Mums with primaries soon.)

Sorry Belinda, yes you’re right, my mistake. This session is for people with a secondary diagnosis and hopefully before too long there’ll be a session for those with a primary. Keep watching the thread.

Kind regards,
Jo, Facilitator

Hi, thank you all for your advice - it’s been very reassuring!

Today, as my daughter had apparently been talking about “things” at nursery, I decided to read the “Mummy’s Lump” book to her when we got home. She asked if I’d read it twice and she asked quite a few questions without getting upset - many of them were about the Mummy not having any hair which initially confused her alittle, but we’ve agreed that she’ll help me choose some pretty scarves if I lose mine!

I think like most of you have said, she’ll take things on board as it suits her and and as long as I try and be positive for her and don’t bombard her with needless detail she’ll be fine.

Thankyou - Sarah xx

Hi sarah

Have you been offered the cold cap, I was and it worked wonders, I had 4 Fec and 4 Taxotere and yes it did thin but I didn’t need a wig or scarf thru teatment, it may be worth looking into.

Debs x