Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Parent to Parent: Explaining Illness
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Every year, more than 200,000 women are diagnosed with the disease. But discussing any type of cancer can be difficult with children. In tonight's Parent to Parent, Dr. Valerie has some insight into explaining the illness.
WSVN -- Sometimes simply smiling can be difficult for 7-year-old Sam, 9-year-old Riley and their dad, John Burns.
This past August, John's ex-wife -- Sam and Riley's mom, Joanna -- died from lung cancer.
John Burns: "He asked me why I was crying. I told him that we have to leave from our vacation early because Mommy's going to die in a couple of days."
For John, explaining the illness to his kids was one of the hardest things he's ever had to do.
John Burns: "That's when he asked me if the medicine was going to work that they were giving Mommy. I explained to him that everybody thought it was going to work, but it's not going to."
Unfortunately, there's no easy way to discuss death with children.
But 7's Parenting Expert Dr. Valerie says it is important to always try to tell the truth.
Lynn Martinez: "How important is it for parents to be honest with their kids in something like this?"
Dr. Valerie: "It's important across the board because children know when you're lying, and it doesn't feel good when somebody lies to you, and they can feel it in their bones."
If your children are too young, explain that illness is part of life.
Try to create a sense of normalcy and try to be there for your children as much as possible.
Dr. Valerie: "Continue to love your child and also not hide yourself from the child. You don't need to overwhelm your child with details, but you need to provide your child with love, just as you always have."
If the illness affects you physically, explain how life will change, so there are no surprises.
Dr. Valerie: "You're going to say, 'Mommy has something wrong with her breast, and I'm going to be going to the doctor, and maybe grandma is going to pick you up from school some days.'"
If, on the other hand, your children are old enough, take them with you to the hospital once, so they can see the treatment firsthand.
As for feelings, talk openly.
At places like Gilda's Club in Fort Lauderdale, there are support groups for cancer survivors, family members and even a kids bereavement group.
Here, you can be open and honest all of the time.
John Burns: "The more honest you are with them, I just feel that's the best way you ought to be."
John was up front with Sam and Riley.
Today, all three are learning to help each other by getting help at Gilda's Club.
John Burns: "Right now getting through a daily routine is big for us, is an accomplishment for us."
Dr. Valerie says don't ever force your child to talk about illness. They will come to you when they are ready.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
IF YOU HAVE A CONCERN DR. VALERIE CAN HELP YOU WITH E-MAIL US AT:
Dr. Valerie Goode
7711 SW 62 Ave.
Miami, FL 33143
Gilda's Club South Florida/Cancer Support Group
119 Rose Drive
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316