Families are thrown into turmoil by a woman’s breast cancer, but it is often teenage children who are most vulnerable.
In particular, teenagers can feel shocked, angry and guilty that their mother has breast cancer. Many feel confused about what will happen to their family, while others feel isolated and forgotten, believing that their parents are unaware of, or insensitive to, their distress.
Sitting on feelings and concerns can only make things worse for everyone. Parents can help teenage children by simply letting them voice their feelings, painful though this may be for everyone.
Children, like adults, need access to information about breast cancer, tests and treatments, and prognosis, especially to put right incorrect fears and misconceptions. Children’s ignorance of breast cancer can add to their distress, and the decision by some parents not to explain the disease can compound this distress.
Research suggests that several factors are associated with a child’s level of distress when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer.
Often, women spend more time on domestic tasks than other family members. But the physical toll of breast cancer on women means their children and partner need to take responsibility for these tasks. Unfortunately, these tasks can fall to teenage girls, rather than other children, without discussion. This can add to a child’s sense of isolation, fear and anger. It is therefore important that parents take stock of domestic duties and negotiate new tasks and responsibilities openly.
Amidst the turmoil and pain of breast cancer, it’s important that parents be mindful of trying to retain some balance and fun in family life, especially if usual sporting and leisure time is now restricted.
Last Reviewed: 09 December 2009