Explaining terminal illness to a child

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My 7-year-old niece has a terminal illness, leukemia, and things are not looking good especially with the recent relapse. In such cases, how does a family go about explaining the child’s death to them? I think it is cruel to constantly promise she will be fine. What has your experience taught you is the best approach to this situation?

Usicko Admin Answered question January 3, 2022
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Thank you very much for your question regarding your niece. This touches me personally as I have a boy and could not bear the thought of losing him.

I agree that reassuring her she will be fine is not a good strategy. At this point, it is time to share the truth. Knowing what to expect will help her to avoid fear or anxiety and will also help you with your own feelings.

I would like to refer you to a particularly well-prepared article that covers caring for her symptoms and side effects in addition to how to talk to her about her illness and death.

http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/advanced-cancer/caring-terminally-ill-child-guide-parents

This morning after reviving your email, I wrote to a doctor I know who has a great deal of experience talking to parents and children directly about their terminal illness.

Dr. K writes:

My experience has told me that the person/patient always knows the truth. Each case is different…some people elect not to do anymore, some fight to the end and some just don’t want to know. It is probably a good idea to ask the patients understanding of things…my policy has been “Honesty is the best”… hope this helps

The article above shares ideas and links to ways a family can help to fulfill a child’s dreams without overwhelming them. I hope you take advantage of this.

Lastly, I send my earnest feelings for your niece’s smooth transition to her final resting place. As a psychologist and student physician, I strongly feel the beauty of life and the belief there is something more to look forward to.

Usicko Admin Answered question January 3, 2022

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