Telling Grandchildren

Hi all well after being diagnosed nearly 2 weeks ago we have finally told 2 of our grandchildren that I have cancer. They are the older 2 one is eight and one is five, (Girls). We did not go into too many details just said Nana would be unwell for a little while and would not be able to run around as I normally do ( as I am normally very fit and active and play football, dance, and run around with them at the park) We told them Nana had a bad tummy and her hair may fall out. They seemed to take it ok, I told them if I did not see them for a couple of days that I still loved them very much but I may be too tired to have them stay over. Just wondered if anyone else has done the same as me, I have not said anything to the other 5 granchildren as they are all under 4 and dont think they would understand. Babs

22 Replies

  • Babs, my grandchildren live 300 Miles away so no such problems, we skype and i wore a wig, then They came to visit this week, asked my daughter in law to explain to Bridie (nearly 5) Joseph (2 1/2) but she thought it would be best to leave it till she asked any questions, I wear headscarves and turbans, she did'nt say a thing and carried on normally, When Clare asked Bridie had she noticed anything different about Nanny, she just said, yes she wears hats and we carried on playing,so we left it at that. We all had a great time and we waved goodbye today, missing them already. Love Sue x

  • Hi Babs

    If you type into the search box at the top of the page --"my son won't look at me", you may get some ideas from that. I remembered it from a while back .....I'm sure your grandchildren will be fine with all the support that you and your family will be giving them, but there may be some ideas on there that may give you a way in to talking about what will be happening to you. I was a teacher and the children in my class were 9 and 10 years old, and they were very curious. I talked to them honestly, but left out any scary bits, only emphasising the fact that I was going to get better and my tiredness was only temporary. I found that if you are matter-of-fact with young children, they will follow your lead.

    It's important to chat as honestly as you can with children, taking a positive line like "the medicines that have made me lose my hair are also making me better again" and reassuring him that the hair will re-grow and you will all get back to normal after your recovery. It all depends on how good an actress you are, but Grans are so creative with their grandchildren.

    When I got back to my class after my op, and also when a colleague got back to work after losing her hair to breast cancer chemo, we explained to the children in class that it has been a worrying time, but things are looking up and we're over the illness for now. They were very glad to be able to talk about it and it ceased to be a big deal for them quite quickly. I used to get some "Miss, when you had cancer ...." sort of questions and they were really matter of fact about it. Kids can accept things far more easily than we realise when they are given a chance to explore what is confusing them. We went on to do some fundraising for cancer charities.

    That's all in the future though need to concentrate on getting well and helping your grandchildren to accept that this isn't scary and it isn't permanent.

    Good Luck

    Love Wendy xx

  • Hi Babs

    My grandchildren were too young to understand any of it when I was diagnosed three years ago except that Nanna wasn't very well. When I visited my three in Auckland NZ two years ago when I had no hair it took my granddaughter who was 4 at the time several weeks to ask me quietly when we were on our own one day why I had shaved my hair off. It had obviously been on her mind and I explained it was because of the medicine i had to take to make me well enough to travel to see them. I admit it did bring a tear to my eye.

    This year when I went I had some hair again and she was so pleased. As they have got older we have answered their questions but generally try to keep it very low profile and they accept that sometimes I'm not well enough to do things and that's about it. I feel blessed they are in my life and enjoy every minute I spend with them as I am sure all the Grannies on this site do.

    Good luck . Meryl XXXXX

  • Hi Babs I was diagnosed last year. My grandsons are six and eighteen months. The six year old we used to look after one day a week so were very close. We told him I had a poorly tummy and have to have medicine that would make my hair fall out. When he eventually came to see me when my hair had gone I put my hat on he walked in and said take your hat off and that was it he was fine, we then played a game trying all my hats on. He said to me the other day your hair is growing and again I had to tell him it would probably fall out he just accepted it. I have found children are very accepting if informed in a simple way. Best Wishes Sue x

  • Dear Babs

    It's good you've posted this question on the site as there are many different ways of dealing with this issue and it will be helpful to read how each of us has tackled it.

    My twin grand-daughters were 21/2 years old when I was diagnosed last year. My daughter decided to mention that I was ill. They enjoyed coming to visit me in hospital and were a source of great joy when they came to the house during my recuperation. They understood I needed a lot of rest so visits to the bedroom were for just short periods of time and it wasn't appropriate for them to run around.

    I think the main thing is to be comfortable with what you tell the children, and to be truthful. Children are incredibly perceptive and sensitive and if you are at ease they will be too. Obviously the older the children are the more details they might like to know and if you're comfortable talking about your illness they will ask questions until their curiosity is satisfied. It might be an idea not to describe the illness as cancer because there is a lot of negative stereotyping associated with the word and even if you are comfortable with this in the home other people in their lives may have a different reaction which might worry or frighten them.

    Dealing with hair loss is a very personal thing. I've met many women who are completely comfortable with their baldness, and their peace of mind transmits to people of all ages. If you're happier covering up then you can just explain the medicine has made your hair fall out so you prefer to cover up until it grows back. They might like to try on your various hats or headscarves.

    Dealing with teenagers is something very different as they are going through a massive change process and have complex needs. I think you would probably have to go on gut instinct here. I work with teenagers and find they can be incredibly mature, compassionate and open-minded. If you're lucky enough to have a grandchild at that stage of development I'm sure there would be no problem at all in talking about cancer and showing off a lovely bald head.

    It's rather dreadful that there are still prejudices against baldness - some people feel it's OK and fashionable for a man but not for a woman. Hopefully films such as 50/50 have improved public awareness of cancer and its side-effects. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see more women having the confidence to be bald so it no longer retains such a stigma.

    I'm looking foward to many other posts on this topic. It's a very interesting one.

    Wishing you love and luck as you progress on this journey. At the end of the day you must do whatever you feel comfortable with.

    x Annie

  • Hi!

    Like Sue my grandchildren live 300 miles away. Their broadband is slow so we do not skype but we phone. I left telling them to my son & his wife and they decided to tell them I had cancer. Lawrence was 10 and william was 7 1/2 when I was diagnosed. They were very curious when they came to visit but we joked about my bald head and what colour I would dye my hair when it grew back. We are very matter of fact about it and so I have, on occasions, had to deal with some embarassing public questions. Like thue time inntheir favourite breakfast cafe in Dartmouth, much frequented by the boating crowd, whennLawrence said, very loudly, "Grandms, you know your cancer?" absolute silence in crowded cafe, "is it going to kill you soon." i simply replied"not if I can help it". This year they visited at mybdaughter's for a week when I had just got out of hospital. I was very sick all week and the boys were so sweet bringing me hot water bottles and water and choosing TV they thought I would like. We went to Brent Cross and I sat in a coffee bar while they went to spend their pocket money. They had been Christmas shopping and I had a very tasteful pen from Lawrence and a very glittery notepad and pencil from William.

    They are older than your Grandchildren and we don't discuss it much now as I am 3 years down the line. They understand about tiredness and lack of energy and, after all I do more even now than my ex, who lives in Spain. Even my operation scars lost out to his keyholevgall bladder removal as he had "four tubes grandma, one came out of his belly button" much more impressive than a mere top to bottom zip! Though theybwere impressed with the superglue! We make a joke about things as much as possible.

    I hope that yours handle it as well! I have found it is best not to pretend nothing is wrong but to stay lighthearted as far as possible. Above all I answer their questions honestly, if simply, and I do not pretend nothing is wrong. During my visit to them at easter Lawrence was very concerned about my stoma. He thought I had a skin pouch like a kangaroo, so I showed him the top of the bag stuck to my skin, and let him examine some of my supplies to demystify it. I then explainedvthat when I was used to it I was going to learn to washnit out so no more smells! The tendency to ask loudly "who farted" when the stoma is malodorous and I cannot get to my deodorant in time can be disconcerting but we handle it.

    They think I am weird anyway! After all I know about rocks and computers and used to go rock climbing and potholing but I still do crochet and embroidery and cook! Very strange compared with their other grandma who is a very "nice" (in its proper sense as well as being a nice person) lady.

    Good luck with yours!


  • Dear Margaret, I did love you story about your grandchildren in the cafe in Dartmouth. It made me laugh like a drain but it does show how resilient and pragmatic children can be. I wonder whether events as they happen aren't quite so funny but with an interesting 'take' after the event we can make just about any story funny.

    Your response was wonderful. I shall remember that and hope someone asks me the same question. How I wish I were as quick-witted as you. I told my husband your story and he thought it was wonderful. I'm sure it should be added to Gwyn's poems and stories blog. xxx

  • The thing I enjoyed most was the expression on the faces of evryone else in the cafe. It is favoured by rathr snooty sailing types and I was bald with turban at the time. These days the boys don't like me to talk about dying but I tend to do so in a very matter of fact way as something i would have to be prepared for at my age in any case and, meanwhile, i am doing my best to prevent it even if the treatment is sometimes unpleasant.

  • I've been talking to friends in the office today about Bab's dilemma and we got round to having a bit of a giggle at my plans to deal with being bald. I sit with my back to some of the team so we decided when the time comes I ought to paint a couple of eyeballs on the back of my head and stick my glasses on top with a bit of bluetac.

    Have you managed to get out to the theatre recently?


  • Theatre last week and again tonight! Love the idea of the eyeballs and glasses but do not know how you will manage to go on working while having treatment. I had hoped to go on working but found the exhaustion insurmountable. Even now i take twice as long to do anything.

  • Dear Margaret, It's not surprising you're exhausted as you've a lot to cope with and I don't think I would do as well as you. I actually loved all your posts on dealing with the bag. There are things people don't talk about and it makes a mystery of it which is even more scary and horrible than it must be once you have to get on with it. I'm incensed at work when people are ignorant about providing showers in loos and so many other issues.

    What have you seen at the theatre? I couldn't sleep last night so booked Dream in Regents Park for my daughter and I early in July. Just hope this rain stops or it'll turn into A Mid Summer's Nightmare. I used to tread the boards as an amateur and loved everything about it -directing, costume, lighting, acting - as well as sitting back and enjoying a play or opera.

    On the work front not only am I working full-time but also working towards a grievance as the university has broken the law on so many counts in my attempt to return to my own job. I've decided to stick up for disabled people everywhere and fight them for the time being. I only had carbo-platin last time and it didn't affect my energy levels too much but I have noticed I've slowed down and am happy to sit down quietly in the evening with a good book or watch television if there's anything remotely interesting on it. At the moment I'm more likely to sit down with an Act of Parliament and Precedent and gen up on my law.

    Enjoy the theatre tonight! At least that's something you can enjoy quietly though the loo situation there is a bit of a nightmare.

    Loads of love xx Annie

  • Hi Annie! Nothing intellectual tonight! The Reduced Shakespeare Company presenting the Complete History of Sport! I laughed tl my sides ached!

    Good luck with your battle! I was Regional Official for Natfhe (now part of UCU) until I divorced the VP elect! I then did employment rights work for CAB until I was diagnosed! I feel strongly about the way employers still get away with bad practice!

    Enjoy the Dream in Regents Park!

    Love M

  • If you laughed till your sides split that's the best tonic.

    Wow - former union to UCU. That's mine. I'm stunned by my employer breaking the law on so many counts. I'd love to have a chat with you about that but this is probably a bad place as our space is getting smaller and smaller!

    What do you think? Annie

  • Try personal message!

  • I haven't mentioned the word "Cancer" to my daughters. I don't think they would know what it means- we just say similair things to the other posts like that Mummy has a poorly tummy and the mediciene to get better has made her hair fall out. They have just turned 5 and 7. My younger daughter is more of a worrier she cried when she saw me with no hair but now is fine about it. She gets upset easily so we keep things low key with her and let her ask lots of questions- we've found most of her fears are silly things like "If your hair grows back a different colour how will I recognise you when you pick me up from school?" down to the more heartbreaking "If your mummy and Daddy both die who will looks after you?". My older daughter is more happy go lucky and seem to just eveything at face value so I suppse it depends on the child.

  • I feel low key and matter of fact are the vital things. I actually ahaved my head as I felt skinhead was less frightening than thinning. That way I was just weird and eccentric not pitiful. Luckily the boys were not around during my chemo though they were aware of how tired I was and saw me just 2 weeks after my last op when I was very sick!

  • Hi Babs

    Don't yet have grandchildren, but my nephew was 8 when I lost my hair last summer.We told him that I had a bad illness which needed very strong medicine, and the strong medicine made my hair fall out. He seemed fine with that explanation.Told him my hair would grow back again after treatment.

    Best wishes


  • Hi Babs ... Thinking of you and your lovely grandchildren :-) x G x

  • Thank you everyone. I think telling my grandchildren was the right thing to do. I will wear a wig or a scarf when they are around, and make sure I have all my make up on. They have seen me without make up when they stay over and when I rake them swimming, but I normally wear it everyday so hopefully i wont look too different. The main thing now is to get well so I can see them grow up and get married, roll on next week and lets get this Chemo started x

  • Hear hear to that Babs! I let the boys feel my head! I don't wear make up much as I had sensitive skin before chemo and that has made it worse but luckily I wear glasses so the lack of eyelashes was not so obvious! I pencilled in eyebrows though! On the plus side - no need to shave your legs and underarms and those pesky bristles on my chin disappeared! Unfortunately all the above are back now and the nice curls that grew back have reverted to my normal straight. My hairdresser has several former cancer patients on his books and says it is the same for us all!

    Ah well c'est la vie!


  • Good luck with your treatment. I found the couple of weeks before i started pretty worrying but found it was good to get the first one over and done with. Everyone was very kind and it wasn't half as bad as I'd thought. You can then think there's one down and only 5 to go.

    Lots of love xx Annie

  • Hi Babs

    I'll be thinking of you next week and I'm sure that, with your lovely, supportive family around, you will be well looked after. Good luck

    Love Wendy xx

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