How Do You Explain Breast Cancer to Young Children?

Updated on March 01, 2011
C.R. asks from Olathe, KS
7 answers

My MIL may have breast cancer. They have found three lumps in her right breast, and they will be doing a biopsy on each lump to see if it is cancer or not. Her mother had cancer in both breasts, so it is very likely that she has cancer. Her doctor did not seem to have a good outlook on it either. My girls are 10, 5, and 3, and I really do not know how to explain this to them. Breast cancer does not run in my family so I do not know much about it. Any advice you ladies could give me would be great!

Update: I'm not planning on telling them anything until we get the results back. I'm just trying to get ideas in case I have to explain this to my girls. I want to prepare myself because I do not know anything about cancer.

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answers from Cincinnati on

I would wait until after the results of the biopsy come in. If she does in fact have cancer, you will need to decide if your kids are mature enough to hear something like that. Maybe talk to the 10 year old seperate from the 5 & 3 year olds. She may have bigger questions that may just scare the other 2. Dunno. For the younger ones though, I would just tell them that Grandma has an inside owie so we have to give her extra kisses and hugs to make it stop hurting. Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

I'm trying to figure it out with my 2 yr old. She doesn't notice anything now but if my mom gets worse I will have to explain it to her. I may say that grandma has a really bad virus (or kid word meaning the same thing basically) and is hurting grandma but doctors are trying to fix it.

I agree with your update on waiting til the results come back. I didn't know much about cancer either until my mom came back with her2 positive cancer (very aggressive cancer) and now I know a ton about cancer, medicines, and natural herbs that help. I would go to the cancer site Lori H gave :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Spokane on

My Dad was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and I've been struggling with what to tell my children, if anything. I've decided not to say anything unless he gets noticibly sick. He may be having surgery next week, so I'll have to explain that Deda has an operation and will be sore for a while (my girls are 4.5, almost 3, and 3 months).

I would wait and see what the results of the biopsies are before saying anything. It could turn out to be nothing (fingers crossed). IF you need to tell them that grandma is sick, do it age appropriately. Meaning, tell your 3 year old that grandma is sick. Your 5 year old can know a little more. And I'd be the most forthcoming with the 10 year old. She will likely not want to be treated like a child, so be as honest and factual with her as you think she can handle. Maybe you and she can do some research together?

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Explain it in stages, as you go along. So right now, the doctor has found some lumps that some women get in their breasts. The doctor will test the tissue to see what it is.

Why explain that it is likely she has cancer, when she still has a possibility of not having it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

As a volunteer for the local American Cancer Society I would like to suggest that you check out their website at It is full of VERY useful information, both for you and your daughters. If you don't find what you want or need, or it is just too much information to take in please consider calling the local office. Their phone number is ###-###-####. I know a couple of the ladies in that office, they are wonderful and VERY knowledgeable. They will go above and beyond to help you find anything you need.
I also want to suggest that your MIL, if it turns out she has cancer, contact the American Cancer Society. They are full of any information your family could possibly need. They also have programs and support "groups" to help your MIL and the rest of the family. They have people available to talk to that have gone through what your family and MIL are/will be going through. They can help you know what to expect and when.
Another thing, if your family does not have plans this Friday night... There is a Relay For Life event at Blue Valley West High School that starts at 7pm. This Relay is a youth event so it will be full of things for the kids to do. It will also be a great source of information. You will be able to learn about everything the American Cancer Society has to offer. What it offers those battling cancer and their caregivers. It is a FREE event to attend. However, there will be many activities and things for sale with all the proceeds going back the the American Cancer Society to help fund the wonderful programs they offer and the many research grants the provide for Cancer prevention research.
The Relay will also help teach your daughters that there is life after cancer. It can also be a great opportunity to volunteer, your daughters are not too young to help. (My son who will turn 3 in July has been 'helping' since before he was born.) If it turns out that your MIL does have cancer, volunteering may give them a sense that they are helping grandma get/feel better. Even the 3 year old will take pride in that.

I hope this helps and that your MIL doesn't have to go through the battle. If she does have to go through the battle, she is not alone and their are many people available to help in anyway possible. It is a lot to deal with but there is also A LOT of support out there.

If you would like to talk more about it or just want more information, please feel free to send me a private message.

Hoping nobody has to deal with cancer!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

My husband was just diagnosed with cancer, and we have two young children, so we're in the same boat. My plan is to talk to my daughter's pediatrican about what's developmentally appropriate for her (she's six). He's going to require surgery, so we'll have to tell them both (the little one is three) before that.

Whatever you do, chunk it down, and only tell them about stuff that's happening within a week or two. They can't really comprehend more time than that, and it will just seem very overwhelming.

Good luck to your MIL.



answers from Kansas City on

I had Breast Cancer, the girls won't notice anything unless she will have chemo, then I'm not sure, I didn't have to have that. My mother has had several lumps that are not cancer, so don't count on them being cancer.
First she will have surgery to have the lumps removed, it usually doesn't require an over night stay, in fact I went to my son's football game the same day of my surgery. Then I had radiation, had to go in daily for a treatment, the only physical side effect was a severe sunburn. So your daughter's won't notice a change in your MIL, just tenderness on the side that is being treated. I don't think they need an extensive explanation unless there is a visible difference in her, you might tell them that she is having surgery to remove a bad spot in her breast then field questions if they have them, my guess is that you won't have many. Good Luck, sometimes it's worse if you give them more answers than they ask for.

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