Getting support for you and your children

Preparing a child for loss can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, but you do not have to do it alone. You can ask for help from the health professionals looking after you, such as your GP or your specialist nurse. Friends and family may also be able to support you, but sometimes it is easier to talk to someone who is not directly involved.

There are organisations who provide information about supporting children and teenagers when an adult is dying. There are picture books that you can read with your children to help explain what is happening.

When a child has a parent with terminal cancer, they are likely to have complicated emotions. It is important for the school, nursery, or club staff to be aware of the cancer diagnosis and any extra support the children may need. If your child is facing exams or coursework, keeping the staff updated on how your child is coping means they can offer the right support.

Teenagers may look for information about cancer on the internet, so try to signpost them to accurate websites. They may also feel more comfortable joining an online support group, rather than speaking to someone face to face.

Getting support

Support is available for you and your family. But, if you feel you are not getting enough support or the right kind of support, it is important to ask for help or to talk to someone like your doctor

Health professionals

If you are the person with cancer, your cancer doctor and specialist nurse can offer support and advice. You can also talk to your GP if you need emotional support, whether you are the person with cancer or a relative.

Sometimes, it is easier to talk to someone who is not directly involved. Your specialist or GP can usually refer you to a counsellor or psychologist.

Your local hospice will offer different services to support you and your family. You can use these services even if you do not want to go into the hospice. They will also offer support for your family after you have died.

Support from Macmillan

You can visit Macmillan’s Online Community, where you can chat with others in a similar situation. Or you can call our cancer support specialists for free on 0808 808 00 00. They can tell you more about counselling and can let you know about services in your area.

We have some easy read booklets that use simple language and pictures. They can be useful for anyone who finds it hard to read. The booklets are about care at the end of life and after someone dies.

Other organisations

Organisations such as Winston’s Wish or Marie Curie provide information about supporting children and teenagers when an adult is dying. You can also look for local bereavement services near you at the Childhood Bereavement Network. Your local hospice may also be able to support you and your children.


Schools and clubs

When a child has a parent with terminal cancer, they are likely to have complicated emotions.

It is very important for school and club staff to be aware of the cancer diagnosis in the family and of any additional help and support the children may need. Tell the teachers or group leaders what you have told your children. It is important that your children get the same message from everyone. Let your children know who you are going to tell and why.

It is also important to tell nursery or school teachers, and the school nurse. They can be sensitive to your child’s needs, and it may help them understand any unusual or difficult behaviour. Explain exactly what your child knows and what sort of support you think they may need.

Teenagers may be facing exams or coursework at school, college, or university. They may be finding it difficult to keep up with their studies. It is important that their teachers or tutors know what is happening so they can offer extra support. If your teenager has exams coming up, you could talk to their teacher about how they are coping and what can be done to support them during the exams.

You should speak to your teenager before contacting the school. School or college may be one of the few places where things still feel normal, and they may be hesitant about letting people know. Asking them will also show them that you are telling them everything and including them.

It is important to speak to their school or college about how they are coping. Teachers or staff can offer support, and they may notice issues or behaviours that are not always apparent at home.

The school were considerate of needing time off and listened to any concerns I had. So, they knew if she was tired, upset, or needing a shoulder to cry on.

Denise


Online support and useful websites

Teenagers in particular may look for information about cancer on the internet. You or your doctor could help them understand whether the information they find is accurate and relevant to your diagnosis. Some teenagers may feel more comfortable joining an online support group rather than speaking to a counsellor. 

The Hope Support and Rip Rap might also be helpful. They are for teenagers who have a parent with cancer. You can also use them to search for other useful organisations that can help you.

Cruse Bereavement Care has information for bereaved children and young people, as well as a free helpline: 0808 808 1677.

Child Bereavement UK has information and support for bereaved children, young people, and families. They also have an app called Grief Support for Young People and a free helpline: 0800 02 888 40.


Going forward

Talking about death and dying with a child who is facing loss is one of the hardest things anyone is likely to do. We hope the information here has given you and your family some ideas on ways of approaching this sad and difficult task. You are likely to want to talk to your children in stages. You can get help from your close family and friends, and the healthcare team who are helping you manage your illness.


Books and other resources

We have some easy read booklets that use simple language and pictures. They can be useful for anyone who finds it hard to read. The booklets are about care at the end of life and after someone dies.

Books for children whose parent is seriously ill

  • The Secret C – Winston’s Wish
  • Flamingo Dream – Jo Napoli
  • No Matter What – Debi Gliori
  • When Someone Has a Very Serious Illness – Marge Heegaard
  • When Dinosaurs Die – Laurie Krasny-Brown
  • Always and Forever – Debi Gliori
  • The Sad Book – Michael Rosen
  • The Memory Tree – Britta Teckentrup
  • The Copper Tree – Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley
  • Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? – Elke Barber & Alex Barber

Books for adults with life-limiting illness

Other resources

Back to Relationships and advanced cancer

Preparing yourself

Before talking to your children, you may need some time to cope with your own feelings about being told you will not recover from cancer.

Preparing a child for loss

It can be very hard telling your children that you are not going to get better. Being honest with them can help them cope.

Making a memory box

Making a box filled with special things can help your children or other loved ones to remember times that you spent together.