This list of resources is for parents with secondary breast cancer to help them talk with their children about their illness and future. They are currently available from bookshops, libraries and online. It is also worth speaking to your local librarian or visiting your local cancer information centre, as many will stock and loan a variety of similar books. Amazon also lists many of these books and booklets. There is also a list of useful organisations and websites.
Books for parents or carers
Talking to children when an adult has cancer (Macmillan Cancer Support 2011)
This explains how to start talking to children about cancer and the reactions and questions they may respond with. It gives very clear explanations about approaching dying with children and involving them at their pace. This is available as booklet, audio tape or CD from Macmillan Cancer Support - call 0800 500 800.
How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk (Adele Faber and Elaine Mazilsh, Piccadilly Press 2001)
This is more a parenting style text book not specifically aimed at people who are ill, but could be useful for any parent who wants to enable their children to talk about how they are feeling. It encourages the reader to see things from their children’s point of view and for anyone of a certain age, the idea of breaking the cycle of ‘unhelpful talk that gets handed down the generations’ may be worth considering.
As big as it gets; supporting a child when a parent is seriously ill (Winston’s Wish 2007)
This book covers each stage of a diagnosis from treatment to what happens when recovery is unlikely in a truthful and supportive way. It deals with all ages and how they may need information like a jigsaw or small pieces, but each age will be different. It provides examples of what to say and encourages you to rehearse so the words you use, are understood by a child. It also tries to prepare you for what your child or children’s reactions could be and provides some very useful practical activities that you can do. This book is available from the online shop at www.winstonswish.org.uk
Books for children
The Secret C: Straight talking about cancer (Julie Stokes, Winston’s Wish 2009)
The explains the different aspects of cancer in an accessible way that keeps the message firmly related to the child's perspective. Pictures and speech bubbles allow children to add their own perspectives which is useful when reading to a pre-school or non-reading child as it can open up discussion. We particularly like the emphasis on the importance of having fun, and the suggestions which lead the child to consider the support they might find outside the family as well as within, such as best friends, teachers and nurses.
When your mum or dad has cancer (Ann Couldrick, Sobell Publications 2003)
This is a useful booklet for younger children (7+) to teenage children. It has an introduction for parents but then explains cancer in a simple way children can relate to. It also covers many questions children ask such as will the person die and what exactly happens, but tackles the answers with insight and honesty.
The following books are more about the feelings children may express around missing people and keeping those connections strong. Some are general children’s fiction books which may help start conversations about how they feel. Some of the books deal with someone close being very ill and dying.
The huge bag of worries (Virginia Ironside, Hodder Children’s Books 2004)
A fiction book suitable for all children up to teenage years as it can be read by adults to non-readers and by children who can read alone. It’s an excellent book with illustrations which are as powerful as the written word. The book is not about cancer or health related issues and so can be used as a trigger to discussion with children about anything which may be worrying them.
No matter what (Debi Gliori, Bloomsbury, 2005)
A general children's board book for very young children, simply explaining unconditional love.
The rainbow feelings of cancer: a book for children who have a loved one with cancer (Carrie Martin and Chia Martin, Hohm Press 2001)
This is an American book with pictures drawn by a child and features her comments on the pictures about her mother's cancer. Although it's a picture book and therefore for younger children, it covers some quite complex subjects. For example, ‘It's OK to feel happy even though my mum is ill; sometimes I feel happy and sad at the same time’. It's quite realistic and down to earth and could be useful as a starting point for conversations about living with a parent with cancer.
A dragon in your heart (Sophie Le Blanc, Jessica Kingsley Publishers 1999)
A children’s book about a little girl called Anne and her mother who is diagnosed with cancer and needs treatment. It covers all the practical problems of mum being in hospital as well as Anne’s fears which the dragon shows her how to tackle. Could be suitable for infant or junior aged children but younger ones may find the text a bit long.
Michael Rosen's Sad Book (Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake, Walker Books, 2011)
An illustrated book for children (or anyone) about the author’s sadness after his son dies and what he does to try and cope with his feelings.
Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children (Doris Stickney, Pilgrim Press, 2004)
This book is concise and easy to understand for children aged 4 to 10. It is aimed at children from Christian faith families. The pictures and text may not be particularly engaging to all children. It may also be a little vague, not explaining death in detail but parents may find it useful as a tool to open a discussion around heaven and beliefs.
Useful organisations and websites
A website where children can talk with others whose parent has been affected by cancer.
This charity provides special days for people and their families aged 16-40 who are affected by cancer. Their website includes information on eligibility criteria and how to apply.
This charity provides special days for people affected by cancer, including the over 40s.
Winston's Wish is the charity dedicated to supporting bereaved children when a parent has died, they also give advice and support via their helpline and residential weekends.
Content last reviewed December 2012; next review planned 2014