Begin by giving your illness a real name. Even though the unfamiliar words may sound strange at first, your children need to know the real name for your illness. Your five-year-old may not get the syllables just right, but he will overhear those words and you don’t want him to be confused about whether “breast cancer” is the same thing as the “lump” you told him about. Your 10-year-old may worry on hearing the term “leukemia” that now you have a new, more serious illness than the “blood disease” you said you had before. How is your three-year-old to know that the “boo-boo” you have inside you, which requires you to go the hospital for special medicine, is not the same kind of boo-boo that she gets when she falls down and scrapes her knee, or like the ear infection that means she needs to take pink medicine?
You may avoid using the name of your illness because you worry that your 16-year-old will take the medical term for your illness, do an internet search, and be frightened by what he finds. You ultimately cannot protect your older children from information, but you can open up the channels of communication so that they bring their questions to you, and receive information grounded in the reality of your medical care and your life as a family.