Talking to your children about your cancer

How do I talk to my children about my cancer diagnosis?

Cancer can have a profound impact on your life and your family and the prospect of telling your children you have cancer can feel very frightening.

The booklet Talking to Kids about Cancer  aims to help you to firstly tell your kids about the cancer, and then to keep talking throughout your cancer journey. This information is for anyone who needs to talk to a young person about an adult with cancer. We hope it's a useful starting point for ideas on informing and reassuring young people who are directly affected by an adult's cancer diagnosis.  For a free printed copy of Talking to Kids about Cancer please call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Additional books for parents with a cancer diagnosis:

  • Cancer in the family. Helping children cope with a parent's illness by Sue P Heiney, Joan Hermann, Katherine V Bruss (Editor); Publisher: American Cancer Society, 2001
  • When a parent has cancer: a guide to caring for your children by Wendy Schlessel Harpham; Publisher: Perennial Currents, 2004
  • Raising an emotionally healthy child when a parent is sick by Paula Rauch and Anna Muriel. Part of the Harvard Medical School Health Book Series. Publisher: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

Copies of these books are held in the Cancer Council WA patient library at Crawford Lodge, Nedlands – for information on how to access a copy, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

[return to top]

Additional website information for parents with a cancer diagnosis


  • Canteen - supporting, developing and empowering young people living with cancer and with cancer in their family. This is done by providing an Australia wide peer support network for 12-25 year olds including:
    • siblings and offspring - young people who have an immediate family member (brother, sister, parent or primary carer) who has been diagnosed with cancer
    • bereaved siblings and offspring - young people who have had an immediate family member who has died from cancer
    • Truce program - A support program for young people who have a parent with cancer.

International organisations and websites

For further information or support please contact Cancer Council 13 11 20.

[return to top]


Can counselling help my children to cope with my cancer?

Counselling can help a family to speak more openly and understand the concerns of the various members when a parent has cancer. It is important that the counsellor has experience in counselling children and families.

The Cancer Council WA can link you to a counsellor with experience in counselling young children affected by cancer, as well as counsellors who have experience in family counselling and also play therapists.

To speak to someone about your family’s needs and to arrange an appropriate referral, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

[return to top]


Are there books suitable for children whose parents have cancer?

Books for young children:

  • Safina and the hat tree (Picture book) by Cynthia Hartman. Publisher: Nomota Pty Ltd, 2004.
  • Sammy's mommy has cancer (Picture book) by Sherry Kohlenberg. Publisher: Magination Press, 1993
  • What is happening to my mummy (Colour-in story book) Written by Noela Moran.
    Illustrated by Teresa Jordan. Publisher: Cancer Council Queensland, 2010.
  • My mummy has cancer (Picture book) by Lindsay Clark
  • In the Rainbow by Tracey Newnham Published 2017

Books for older readers

  • She's got what? A story about cancer by Carrie Lethborg and Angela Kirsner. Publisher: St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne, 1999.
  • What about me? For children when a parent has cancer (Comic book). Publisher: Cancer Council Queensland, 1999.
  • Because … someone I love has cancer (Kids' activity book). Publisher: American Cancer Society, 2003.

You may like to call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out if there is a copy of any of the books listed in the patient library.

[return to top]

Support for parents with young children

Having a young family and a cancer diagnosis brings unique challenges. At Cancer Council WA, we recognise that there is a gap in support for parents with cancer and their young children. Research suggests that peer support at any age can be an added support if provided in a supported and guided way, yet finding opportunities for young children to meet other kids in similar situations can be difficult.

It's also understandable that usual family outings and celebrations can be harder to make happen. Being tired, having increased financial strain or just not feeling up to making plans are just some of the reasons we hear from parents.

In an effort to better support families affected by cancer, we are now planning family focused activities and events which will be available from time to time, with a focus on FUN activities for parents to share with their children. To get more details on our current activities, please click here.

Alternatively, if you or your children would like to explore a more formal program or regular connection with others their own age, please let us know by sending us an email enquiry to

Mummy's Wish is available to support Australian families with children aged 12 years and under, through the provision of pratical, immediate and non-means tested support whilst mum is receiving treatment for cancer. 

Please note that these activities are specifically aimed at families with children under 12. For support services for children aged 12 years or over, please click here to see services available from Canteen.

[return to top]


Who else can help?

  • KIDSCOPE assists children and families to understand the effects of cancer or chemotherapy on a loved one, provides suggestions for coping, and develops innovative programs and materials that communicate a message of hope to diverse families coping with this crisis.
  • Kids Helpline (5 - 25 years)
  • Riprap - This site is especially for 12-16 year olds who have a parent with cancer. In riprap, you can learn more about cancer and its treatment and through individual stories you can see how this might affect you and your family.

(return to top)