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Talking to Children about Genetics and Cancer

Talking to your children can be very difficult, and there is no one correct way to do it. The person who knows your child the best is you, so only you can decide on the best way to communicate this information to them.

Here are some resources you can use to learn more about making a plan for how to communicate this important and sensitive information with children:

University of Michigan Talking with Children about a Loved One’s Cancer Information Guide

Talking about genetics with children? Use Harry Potter

Brochures and Fact Sheets

For Children and Teens

American Cancer Society.

  • It Helps to Have Friends: When Mom or Dad Has

Cancer Family Care.

What about Me? A Booklet for Teenage Children of Cancer

KidsCope. Kemo Shark.
Available online at:

National Cancer Institute.

When Your Parent has Cancer: A Guide for Teens.
Available online at:

For Parents


Helping Children Understand Cancer: Talking to Your Kids About Your Diagnosis

Helping Children When a Family Member has Cancer.
Cancer Support Community. Frankly Speaking About Cancer: What Do I Tell the
Kids? Activity Books
 American Cancer Society. Because… Someone I Love Has Cancer: Kids’ Activity
 LiveStrong. When Someone You Know Has Cancer: An Activity Book for Families.
Available online at:
 Van Dernoot, Peter. Talking with my Treehouse Friends About Cancer


For Adults
 Collins, Leigh & Nathan Courtney. When a Parent is Seriously Ill: Practical Tips for
Helping Parents and Children. Metairie, LA: Jewish Family Service of Greater New
Orleans, 2003.
 Harpham, Wendy Schlessel. When a Parent Has Cancer: A Guide to Caring For
Your Children. Rev. Ed. New York: Perennial Currents, 2004.
 Heiney, Sue P. et. al. Cancer in Our Family: Helping Children Cope with a Parent’s
Illness. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2013.
 McCue, Kathleen. How to Help Children Through a Parent’s Serious Illness. New
York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2011.
 Rauch, Paula K. and Muriel, Anna C. Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child when a
Parent is Sick. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
 Russell, Neil. Can I Still Kiss You? Answering Children’s Questions about Cancer.
Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 2001.
 Van Dernoot, Peter. Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer: A Guide for
Parents and Families. New York, NY: Hatherleigh Press, 2002.
For Kids
Ages 3 – 6
 Ammary, Neyal J. In Mommy’s Garden: A Book to Help Explain Cancer to Young
Children. Lehighton, PA: Canyon Beach Visual Communications, 2004.
The plot of the story revolves around the narration of a little girl whose mother has
 Buckley, Colleen; Spponaugle, Kim. Grandma Kathy Has Cancer. Indianapolis, IN,
Dog Ear Publishing, 2007.
A picture book for children that draws upon real-life episodes between a
grandmother who has cancer and her granddaughter.
 Clark, Julie Aigner. You are the Best Medicine. New York, NY: Balzer & Bray, 2010.
This book delivers a soothing message from a mother with cancer to her young
daughter. Reassuring and tactful, it affirms that love and kindness are the best
medicine for anyone who is ill.
 Filgenzi, Courteny. Let My Colors Out. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2009.
This book helps children cope with the range of emotions following a parent’s
cancer diagnosis.
 Frahm, Amelia. Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer – Tankerous Mommy. Hutchinson, MN:
Nutcracker Publishing Company, 2001.
Told through the eyes of Tabitha, a young girl, this is the story of a family in which
the mother is being treated for breast cancer.
 Glader, Sue. Nowhere Hair: Explains Cancer and Chemo to Your Kids. Marin
County, CA: Thousand Words Press, 2010. This book helps children understand chemotherapy and how cancer and hair loss
are not their fault.
 Greenfield, Nancy Reuben. When Mommy Had a Mastectomy. Silver Spring, MD:
Bartleby Press, 2005.
This book helps to explain breast cancer and mastectomy simply and sensitively for
the very young child.
 Lewis, Alaric. When Someone You Love Has Cancer: A Guide to Help Kids Cope.
St. Meinrad, IN: Abbey Press, 2005.
This book uses child-friendly language and illustrations to explain what cancer is.
 Makekau, Maryann. When Your Mom Has Cancer: Helping Children Cope at Home
and Beyond. Makekau, 2010.
This book is an excellent resource to help explain breast cancer to their children in
such a way that they not only understand cancer but can also approach the subject
with less fear and anxiety.
 Makekau, Maryann. When Your Teacher Has Cancer: Coping in the Classroom and
Beyond. Makekau, 2009.
This book explains to a young child what cancer is and what is happening while
their teacher is being treated.
 Moore-Mallinos, Jennifer. Mom Has Cancer! Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational
Series, 2008.
This book focuses on a young boy’s anxiety prior to learning his mother’s cancer
diagnosis and his ability to adapt once provided with honest information and
 Nilon, Cathy. Chemo Cat. Edmonds, WA: Ravenna Press, 2007.
This book is about a young child whose mother is going through cancer treatment
and chemotherapy.
 Perry, Hannah. A New Hat for Mommy: Helping Children Express Their Concerns
on Cancer. Charleston, SC: BookSurge, 2005
This book is about a young girl whose mother has cancer. It asks questions along
the way to encourage children to talk about their feelings in a relaxed manner.
 Schick, Eleanor. When Mama Wore a Hat. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, 2007.
Two children see the effects of their mother’s chemotherapy after they learn she
has cancer.
 Sutherland, Eileen. Mom and the Polka-Dot Boo-Boo. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer
Society, 2007. This book helps families talk about breast cancer, gently preparing
children for what lies ahead following their mother’s diagnosis.
 Thomas, Christine. Can I Catch Cancer? Brittany’s Books, 2007.
This book explains cancer in terms and illustrations a child can relate to. Gently
and playfully guides the reader through the process of a cell to a tumor.
 Tinkham, Kelly A. Hair for Mama. New York, NY: Dial Press, 2007.
When Marcus’s mother has chemotherapy for her cancer and loses her hair, he tries
to find new hair for her.

Ackermann, Abigail & Adrienne. Our Mom has Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American
Cancer Society, 2001.
A humorous, honest, and hopeful account of the year that Abigail and Adrienne’s
mother underwent treatment for breast cancer.
 Borden, Louise. Good Luck, Mrs. K.! New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books,
A third-grade narrator describes the class’s reaction when their beloved teacher is
diagnosed with cancer.
 Fead, Beverlye Hyman. Nana, What’s Cancer? Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society,
Nana answers 10-year-old Tessa’s questions about cancer. Nana’s answers are
designed to both ease children’s fears and provide them with factual information.
 Matthies, Janna. The Goodbye Cancer Garden. Chicago, IL: Albert Whitman, 2011.
This book is based on the true experiences of a family’s journey through breast
cancer treatment and recovery.
 McVicker, Ellen; Hersh, Nanci. Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings: When
Someone You Love Has Cancer – A Hopeful, Helpful Book for Kids. [S.l.: s.n.],
This book is about a Mom with breast cancer. The story is told through the eyes of
a child and lends itself to a simple and clear understanding of cancer.
 Ries, Lori. Punk Wig. Honesdone, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2008.
A serious illness is given a lighthearted and encouraging treatment as a young boy
relates how his mother is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
 Speltz, Ann. The Year My Mother was Bald. Washington, DC: Magination Press,
An 8-year-old girl keeps a journal that describes the medical treatments her mother
undergoes for breast cancer, her family’s experiences, and her own feelings and
 Watters, Debbie, et al. Where’s Mom’s Hair? A Family Journey through Cancer.
Toronto, Canada: Second Story Press, 2005. Provides detailed photographs to help
young children understand how cancer affects people and how it is fought.
 Silver, Alex. Our Mom is Getting Better and Our Dad is Getting Better. Atlanta, GA:
American Cancer Society, 2007.
These books focus on a parent recovering from cancer. The children in the book
celebrate the milestones their family has reached and reflect on the different ways
their parent’s illness,s treatment, and recovery impacted their lives.
 Chilman-Blair, Kim. What’s Up with Bridget’s Mom?: Medikidz Explain Breast
Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2010.
This book is in a graphic novel format.

Clifford, Christine and Lindstrom, Jack. Our Family Has Cancer, Too! Duluth, MN:
Pfeifer-Hamilton Publishers, 1998.
The perspective of an 11-year-old boy on his family’s coping with his mother’s
 Hannigan, Katherine. Ida B: and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster and
(Possibly) Save the World. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books, 2004.
Ida B’s idyllic childhood is shuttered when her mother is diagnosed with breast
 Owens, Jim. The Survivorship Net: A Parable for the Family, Friends, and
Caregivers of People with Cancer. Atlanta, GA: The American Cancer Society,
This nicely illustrated book uses a parable of circus life to underscore the
importance of family, friends, and caregivers in the life of every cancer patient.
 Cheng, Andrea. Brushing Mom’s Hair. Wordsong, 2008.
This collection of poems tells the story of a 15-year-old girl during her mother’s
diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.
 Gillie, Oliver. Just the Facts: Cancer. Heinemann Library, 2004.
This book provides an overview of cancer, describing what it is, what the various
forms are that it takes, what it is like to live with this disease, and some of the
available treatments.
 Pennebaker, Ruth. Both Sides Now. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 2000.
A book for young adults focuses on mother-daughter relationships and how their
family reinvented itself at a time of crisis.
 Silver, Maya. My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks. Napierville, IL:
Sourcebooks Fire, 2013.
Author Maya Silver was 15 when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in
2001. She and her dad, Marc, have combined their family’s personal experience with
advice from dozens of medical professionals and real stories from 100 teens.


Web Resources
 American Cancer Society: Dealing with a Cancer Diagnosis in the Family
o Click the Search in the top left.
o Type “dealing with a cancer diagnosis in the family”
o Search
 Cancer.Net: Communicating with Loved Ones
This site, by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), provides
information on talking to your children or grandchildren about your cancer.
 GroupLoop
This site for teens is offered by the Cancer Support Community and is both for
teens who have cancer and those who have someone close to them diagnosed with
 Kids Konnected
Provides understanding, education, and support for kids and teens who have a
parent with cancer or have lost a parent with cancer.
 Parenting At a Challenging Time (PACT)
Provides guidance for parents facing cancer.
 Someone I Love is Sick
This site is run by The Gathering Place, a non-profit committed to caring for those
touched by cancer.