Teenagers: When is it time to talk about cancer?

Even if you feel pressured to find the perfect time to talk about your cancer, there is no perfect time to break the news to your teenagers.

Finding a good time

  • Tell your children only when YOU feel ready to talk about your cancer.
  • Don’t let too much time go by before talking with your teen, because it might seem like you’re keeping a secret.
  • Some parents have found that it’s best to talk with their children before starting cancer treatments: Their teens worry less since they know what’s happening, and it builds trust between them.
  • Find a time when your teenagers can focus on what you have to say.
  • Make sure that there’s enough time to talk without being interrupted, and for you to hear your teenagers’ first reactions.
  • Try not to talk to your teen about your diagnosis right before a big social event or special occasion.
  • Think about asking another adult to be with you during the first conversation with your teen. Choose someone that your child trusts, who could also give support to your teen later.
  • You don’t have to talk about everything the first time. There will be many other chances to talk.
  • Good talks can happen whenever the time feels right: For example, you could talk when driving in the car together, or during a walk.

How teens react

There are many ways a teenager could react when learning that a parent has cancer:

  • Teenagers may want some time to themselves after your talk, to think about what you’ve said.
  • Teenagers may not want to be around you for a while after your conversation.
  • Some teens will want to immediately talk with their friends.


American Cancer Society. (2005). Helping children when a family member has cancerwww.cancer.org.

Blum, D. CancerCare Connect. (2005) Helping children when a family member has cancer. Retrieved 6/30/08 from www.cancercare.org.

Harpham, W. (1997). When a parent has cancer: a guide to caring for your children. New York: HarperCollins.

National Cancer Institute (n.d.) When someone in your family has cancer. Retrieved 7/1/08 from www.cancer.gov.