How to Tell 4 Year Old Mom Has Breast Cancer

Updated on December 05, 2009
V.B. asks from Pompano Beach, FL
5 answers

Hi Mamas,

I was just diagnosed with breast cancer and I have a daughter who will be four in a few weeks. She is really bright for her age (reading and writing already) and I'm wondering if anyone has been through this and can tell me how you went about telling your kids about your disease. I have an appointment on Monday to talk to the doctor about treatment options (was JUST diagnosed), so I'm hoping she can point me in the direction of some information or support groups to this end, but I thought I would ask here first. Any thoughts would help a lot. She is smart enough to know something is up and certainly will know when I start treatment and/or have surgery, so we'll have to tell her something soon.


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answers from Houston on


I am so sorry to hear about your diagnoses but glad to see that you are facing it head on and looking for resources for you and your daughter. Know that the prayers of my family are with you in this journey!

Regardless of how smart your little girl is intellectually, remember that emotionally she is still 4 years old. Mommy being sick is a scary thing for one so dependent on you, so being too realistic will frighten her. There is a fine balance with kids this age - she is still very literal and doesn't understand that she can't "catch" what you have - so, talk of germs may not be a good move. And like all things for kids, address each question as they come up and be willing to tell the same information again and again and again.

Personally, I would wait until you have all of the information that you need prior to talking to your daughter. Be honest about when you go to the Dr. but wait for the "big talk" until you know more details about what will happen and when and what plans you have for her. That way, you are ready to answer all of her questions.

Also remember that your child will "play out" her feelings - kids aren't big sit and talk types but you will see her emotions playing out in her play - she might play Dr. more and if you listen in to what she is telling her patients (stuffed animals, etc) then you will be able to gage what she is thinking about your illness and treatment. I would also NOT make her responsible for more as someone else suggested... it is a mistake to demand more of her "so you need to help Mommy" or "be a good little girl" or "take care of brother" - this is a huge thing for your child (and everyone in your family) and to put more responsibility on her at this time is unfair and she will learn to resent you and the illness for putting that on her. Any cancer treatment is a long journey and she will act out and get frustrated and she needs to know that its OK to express her anger and frustration.

Other than that - if you don't already have a spiritual home, now is a great time to find one. There are several great Churches in the Sugar Land area (if you are Christian) that have supportive members and clergy who will be a big help to your family during this time.

AND, I know an amazing woman in Sugar Land who is a breast cancer survivor - her kids were older when she went through it but I know that she would be willing to talk with you if you would like. I will try to find her contact information for you as I haven't talked with her in a while. She beat cancer and that was more than 10 years ago.


2 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

First of all, I'm sorry to hear of your diagnosis, but I can tell that you will do whatever you need to beat it. I hope that you are part of a church or another supportive community of faith. Each of your family members will need support because things will be different for at least a while.

I would prepare to talk with your daughter by trying to understand everything as best as you can yourself - talk to your doc on Monday. Then, remember that your daughter will take a cue on how to react about this from you. Even though she is obviously very intelligent, she is only 4 with the life experiences of a 4 year old.

Tell her only what she needs to know and in a matter of fact way. Make sure that you have help around the house for when you are going through chemo and/or post-op. Find things you two can do together while you are resting such as reading together, and other things. If you don't do a lot of cuddling on the bed or couch, start to talk about that with your husband; you will need to spend time with everyone on the bed or on the couch as you will not feel like running around.

Some of the websites like Komen and likely have some suggestions as well. I have a chronic illness that we have just handled matter of fact with our son. As he gets older, I actually get more detailed about what may be going with me and my limitations at a given time. At the age of four, he only knew that I was giving myself injections (I didn't hide this from him and let him watch) and I told him if I was tired or in pain. At the beginning, I relied on support websites for my illness to help guide me on how much and what to tell him.

Best wishes to you!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

I am so sorry to hear of your diagnosis and wish you all the best during your treatment. I never had to tell my daughter's I had cancer, I had to tell my 7 year old SHE had cancer plus her younger sister. We used a children's book entitled, "Someone I Love Has Cancer" which was a HUGE help. I kept the book with us so we could reread it anytime either of them wanted it read to them or read it themselves.

My prayers are with you and your family.

C. H.



answers from Houston on

Hi V.,

First things first...

(((((((A BIG HUG TO YOU)))))))). I'm so sorry about what you're going through. You sound like such a strong and lovely woman; I know your strength, your bravery, and the support of your family/friends will get you through this.

I haven't been through this exact situation myself, so my only suggestions are the things that, if I were the child in this instance, I'd want/need to hear such as: "There are some germs in mommy's body and I have to take some medicine (or the doctor has to make a little cut in mommy's body to get the germs out)"..."I'll always love you, no matter what"..."I want you to be brave and take care of the boys for me," etc.

God bless you!



answers from Houston on

I am so sorry, V.. I would love to help you as I can. Please feel free to PM me if you need a friend, or someone to help while you are having treatment. I could watch your children during treatment or do some things around the house, ect. There's some books on amazon 'my mommy has cancer'

the Tickle's Tabitha book looks especially interesting, I may order it. There's a workbook "My daddy has cancer" that I think I'll order.

My husband goes to the cancer center at Methodist Sugarland. His oncologist is Dr Conlon and he's considered to be the best of the best. All our other drs (even my OBGYN) and quite pleased to hear that we have Dr Conlon, he's apparently a very well known Dr. BTW, these other drs who know him don't work at the same hospitals- these are Memorial Hermann and St Lukes Drs yet they know who he is...He used to work for MD Anderson but has branched out because that hospital is so full and they have other cancer centers around Houston now (like at Methodist Sugarland.)I can also give you some recommendations for supplements you can take as my dad has had cancer for 15 years and now my husband so I know a lot about research on nutrition ect for cancer.

Anyway, as for your daughter. A good friend of ours died last year of cancer and we (as a whole family) went to the memorial service. They have seen the children (5 of them, ages 9 and under) several times since then. My dad is also dying of cancer. So when my husband was sick for nearly a year (no diagnosis, just unexplained illness) and a cononoscopy was scheduled, my 5 YO said "Daddy is going to the dr to look for cancer." That was so hard for me to know how to respond to that. I just told her we don't know what we're looking for.

But then it was cancer and he had surgery. The tumor had grown through the colon wall and into his back and leg so they couldn't remove all of it. After the confirmed biopsy I did tell the girls that Daddy is very sick and just because our friend died of cancer does not mean that Daddy will. Oh, their brother/my son died in March and we often go to the cemetery so death is very real to them and you might be able to leave the death part out entirely for your daughter. I explained his treatment and that he would be home a lot in bed because the medicine makes him feel bad. And we pray every day for Daddy to get better.

His hair has begun to fall out and that's not something that I told them about. Now that it is, I guess when I cut it short I'll explain what's happening to his hair.

I hope that I can be of some help and support to you,
S., mom to 4 girls ages 2 to almost 7 and wife of 7 1/2 years to Paul, diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 colon cancer.

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