How Veterans Can Talk to Kids About Cancer

U.S. veterans are at greater risk of lung cancer, and a diagnosis can be heartbreaking for younger relatives and loved ones. Even though it is difficult, veterans and parents should talk to children about their diagnosis in ways they can understand, especially if it’s the child’s first time experiencing serious illness or death. Find tips on talking to children about cancer below.

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Speaking About a Veteran’s Cancer With Kids

In addition to their selfless service, many veterans also have to help the young people in their life understand difficult concepts. Unfortunately, talking about cancer too often joins the list of difficult conversations.

Grandfather talking to granddaughterTelling a child that their grandparent, parent, or other loved one has lung cancer or another type of cancer can be challenging. You may even consider avoiding any cancer discussions, particularly with younger children.

However, children can usually sense that adults are struggling or hiding things from them. In fact, they may begin to feel insecure and uncertain due to the lack of communication. They may also be resentful if they learn the truth from someone else.

“The conversation may not seem easy, but taking a proactive stance, discussing difficult events in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure.”
— American Psychological Association

Telling kids that a U.S. veteran they love has cancer is the best way to help them during this time. Thankfully, there are support resources available so you don’t have to navigate this alone.

Learn more about more specific tips for discussions about lung cancer diagnosis, treatment, and life expectancy.

Tips to Prepare for Talking to Kids About Cancer

Choosing the right time and place is one of the most important ways to prepare for a talk with kids about cancer. For example, a calm weekend in a safe, private space with caregivers and loved ones is probably a good setting for such a difficult conversation.

You can also prepare by:

  • Contacting a counselor. Family counselors can help you and everyone involved navigate not only the initial conversations but also any behavioral struggles afterward.
  • Not being afraid to get emotional. Children are incredibly intuitive and can often sense emotions, even if they aren’t readily shown or talked about. Suppressed emotions from adults in their life can contribute to the child feeling anxiety, frustration, and fear.
  • Planning routines. Keeping a consistent routine will help kids stay calm about the future. However, it may be good to begin thinking of some things that will change, like schedules once treatment begins, and gradually prepare them for these adjustments
  • Practice what you want to say. Before your first conversation with the child, plan ahead and prepare what you want to tell them. Try to be as simple and direct as possible.
  • Preparing for multiple conversations. You may have many conversations with kids about cancer to keep the lines of communication open. However, try not to shy away from talking about it, as the discussion can help children cope with their feelings during this difficult time.
  • Setting aside more family time. Spending more time with family can help children navigate confusing emotions. It also helps them know they are loved, supported, and valued.

Remember that children of different ages will react differently to cancer discussions. It’s important to adjust all conversations for their specific age group.

Talking to Children About a Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Right after receiving a lung cancer diagnosis may be one of the most difficult times to discuss cancer with those you love, especially if you are still trying to understand. For this reason, be gentle with yourself on the timeline of telling kids, but remember that telling them is crucial.

Keep the following tips in mind when talking to kids about a cancer diagnosis:

  • Be patient. Children and teens need time to adjust to illness, cancer, and death, especially younger children.
  • Be simple and direct. Don’t overload the children by sharing information, especially if they’re young. Start with the basics, such as the name of the cancer, where it is in the body, and how it makes their loved one feel.
  • Explain what cancer is. Don’t be afraid to use the word “cancer” and explain how it impacts the body. Also, be sure to explain to kids that it is not contagious.
  • Let children ask questions and express their emotions. Give the kids room to ask questions and express their concerns. Be sure to answer questions honestly and clearly.
  • Reassure and comfort them. Tell the children they are loved and taken care of. Also, ensure they know they are allowed to feel their feelings and emotions at this time, whatever that may be.
  • Remind kids that they did not cause their loved one’s sickness. Children under the age of 10 may wonder if they did something to cause their loved one’s cancer. Remind them that cancer is not their fault or responsibility.

It is not uncommon for some children to be angry, sad, or physically feel sick after talking about their loved one’s cancer diagnosis. Remember to allow them time to adjust and seek out additional support at their school or with a counselor or social worker if things do not improve.

Talking to Children About Lung Cancer Treatment

Lung cancer treatment can be intense for the veteran receiving cancer care and their friends and family. Despite efforts to keep things as normal as possible, children might notice how cancer treatment is affecting their loved ones.

As you talk to kids about cancer treatment, keep these tips in mind:

  • Explain symptoms and side effects. Children may start to see the physical changes of their loved one and become worried or frustrated. Explain that hair loss, fatigue, weight changes, and weakness are normal.
  • Invite them to spend time with the cancer patient. Inviting young children to help join the efforts, whether by spending more time together, drawing pictures to lift spirits, or doing other small activities can help them feel loved and in control.
  • Prepare them for a loved one’s potential hospital stays. Lung cancer treatment may require a veteran to remain in the hospital while they recover. Young children may feel abandoned or lonely without their loved one around. By keeping them aware of hospital stays, you can reassure them that this is just part of them getting better.
  • Talk about the treatment plan and timeline. It may help children regain a sense of control and confidence if you explain the type of treatments their loved one will be receiving in ways they can understand.
  • Tell them about potential changes in day-to-day life. Tell the kids whether their day-to-day schedule and activities may change as a result of cancer treatment. Encourage them to ask questions if they are confused or anxious about these changes.

Like many of us, children may feel anxiety around doctors and hospitals. By keeping communication, open you can reassure children that the veteran they love is getting the best and most important lung cancer treatments to help them feel better.

Talking to Children About a Cancer Prognosis

The prognosis for lung cancer, which refers to the likely progression of the cancer, is generally poor. These realities can be incredibly difficult for children to understand.

Here are some tips for talking to children about a cancer prognosis:

  • Be prepared to talk about death. After learning about the loved one’s cancer prognosis, children may begin asking questions about death or even talk about when others die. To reassure them, remind them that the prognosis is not necessarily set in stone and that some people live far beyond what doctors initially tell them.
  • Don’t use complicated medical terms. Words and phrases like “prognosis” and “survival rate” can increase anxiety and frustration in kids because they don’t understand the meanings. Instead try saying something like, “This cancer is serious and some people do not live long. But we are finding the best possible options to help them feel better and live longer.”
  • Talk about life expectancy in ways they can understand. Young children may take timelines and life expectancy literally and others may think their loved one is leaving them immediately. It’s important to adjust your phrasing depending on how old the child is. Be truthful yet gentle, and always allow children to ask questions.

Talking to Children About the Loss of a Loved One to Cancer

It can be difficult to know what to tell kids when a parent, grandparent, or another relative that served passes away from cancer, especially when you are navigating your own feelings.

However, talking to kids can help you and them manage the range of emotions and grief during this time.

Use these tips when talking to children that lost a loved one to cancer:

  • Don’t protect them too much. It’s natural to want to protect them from things that make them sad. However, you should consider including older children and teens in the funeral process. This could give them closure and help them grieve.
  • Practice the conversation. You can prepare what you’ll say with a trusted family member who can give you feedback on your word choice and tone.
  • Use words that are clear and specific. Avoid using euphemisms such as “sleeping forever.” This may cause more confusion and fear.

Resources for Children and Families Coping with Lung Cancer

Telling children a veteran they love has cancer can be challenging. Thankfully, families and their loved ones don’t have to go through this alone.

Resources like one-on-one therapy and support groups can greatly help children grieving a loved one with cancer as well as help those navigating a lung cancer diagnosis.

Lung Cancer Group may also be able to help veterans with lung cancer access additional help, including financial assistance, if their cancer is linked to asbestos.

Some financial aid resources include:

Call (877) 446-5767 to learn how we can help you during this difficult time.


Lung Cancer Group was established by a team of caring advocates so those with lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases can get the help they deserve. Our site provides the most accurate and up-to-date information about lung cancer, its link to asbestos, and financial compensation available to patients. Contact us to learn more and get assistance.

  1. American Cancer Society. (2022 September 15). Telling a Child Someone They Love Has Cancer. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from
  2. American Psychological Association. (March 2023). How to talk to children about difficult news. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from
  3. Calvary Hospital. Coping With Grief: Activities for Children & Teens. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from
  4. Canadian Cancer Society. Talking to children about cancer. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from
  5. Cancer Research UK (2022 April 20). Talking to children about cancer. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from
  6. Child Mind Institute (2021 August 9). Should children attend funerals? Retrieved June 5, 2023, from
  7. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. For Parents: Talking with Children About Cancer. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from
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