My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

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Super frequent scribe

My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

My niece, who is in foster care has lived with us for 2 years and we are slowly working our way thru the courts to make it permanent. She has A.S.D and she attends Year 7 at a main stream high school.  Her mother, my sister has been diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Does anyone have any suggestions of how we could go about telling her? She gets good grades at school - it's her social skills that are a challenge. She has suffered significant emotional, physical and sexual abuse before she came to live with us. We have  been told via the assessments she has that she probably has the emotional maturity of a 6 or 7 year old. When I've looked on the cancer websites I've not been able to find anything of help.  One of the things we have found with other things that her having a book that she can go back and read whenever she wants helps ... does anyone have any suggestions?

Contributor

Re: My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

Hey @jdbza, really glad you found us and I'm really sorry to hear about your sister's health. You obviously care for your niece very much and it's not an easy conversation to have but a very important one that I'm sure you want to have as soon as possible but also in the right way.

 

I found this info from the Cancer Council, which suggests that you:

- remember you are the expert in being her aunty and carer, have confidence in your relationship with her and your communication. You are doing the best thing by having this convo

- Secrecy can make things worse and kids are very observant

- She can can cope, especially if she gets a chance to talk about it and get support, are her who is wants to tell and if there other people she can talk to
- ...this includes support organisations like CanTeen who support young people affected by cancer in any way - they have face-to-face programs, counselling, camps and online support too.

- Find out what she already knows about cancer and deal with any myths or misinformation

- Be honest/open, be upfront about what she can expect

 

Here's an excerpt from the pamphlet, but to read the whole this, use the link above.

cancer support.PNG

 

Lastly, this is a lot for you to be coping with - who supports for you? Is there friends/family that you are talking to and what are the other things you can do to look after yourself?

 

Once again, I'm really glad you found us....

Community Manager

Re: My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

Welcome @jdbza. This must be a really challenging situation for you. Between your sister's ill health and protecting your niece, I can't imagine how hard this must be for you.

 

@Sophie-RO has already given you some great resources and I hope it helps you. Telling family, and especially children, about a cancer diagnosis is never easy, something I have learnt in my family is that it is best to be honest. We also found having as much information as possible helped with understanding the next steps and minimising feelings of uncertainty. I am sure you will make the best decision for your niece and hope you are also taking care of yourself in this difficult time.

Super frequent scribe

Re: My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

Thank you Sophie. I looked up the link and it had lots of useful tips.  I've emailed the link to my sister to read and I'm hoping she finds it helpful as well. Our situation is pretty unusual as my sister lives overseas and she has Borderline Personality Disorder which is why my neice lives with us. She Skypes her mum once a week and she sees her in person twice a year. Her next visit to her mum is in 3 weeks time.  

Super frequent scribe

Re: My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

Thank you Kalis ... I'm at a loss. It's my sister's second time with breast cancer and I'm not sure if my neice knew about it the first time around. With her mum having Borderline Personality Disorder it's not an easy road. We see her in person in a few weeks time and I'm really not sure how it will go.

Community Manager

Re: My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

@jdbza my heart goes out to you, your sister and your niece. It definitely sounds like it's been a challenging road. 

 

Are you planning to tell your niece about her mum's diagnosis before you see her in person in a few weeks?

Super frequent scribe

Re: My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

Yes we are. I've emailed my sister with the support of my neice's social worker to say that I would like to tell my neice with her being part of it this Friday when she is due to Skype. Other wise my husband and I will tell her ourselves on Saturday. We don't want her to find out when we see her mum in person next month. I think it would be keeping it from her until we get to NZ and seeing how sick her mum is would be a mistake. I haven't heard back from my sister so far. I've  also reached out to CanTeen and have been talking with a support person there. They are also sending us some information in the mail which my neice can keep. 

Community Manager

Re: My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

@jdbza it sounds like you have a really solid plan in place and I agree that it's best to tell her before she sees her mum in person. I'm sure your stomach is in knots at the thought of having to tell your neice - do you also have someone you can talk to about all of this?

 

I hope you don't mind but I just edited some of the names out of your post to keep everything anonymous and in line with our community guidelines

Super frequent scribe

Re: My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

Thank you  ... No I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk freely with someone about how I am feeling. I'm still getting my head around everything. I've always had a very difficult relationship with my sister. She is 18 months younger than me and our parents divorced when we were little and I have no memory of our parents being together. Unusually for the time our father was granted custody of us and we very rarely saw or heard from our mother. I was put into the position of being both a sister and a mother to her. Then when she was 12 I went to live with our mother. When I was 16 I left home and never looked back. Not long after I moved overseas and got married. We have never been close and I  was surprised when she asked us to care for her youngest daughter. Her older one was removed from her care at the age of 3 months. Fortunately for her she has been in the same foster home all her life and she turned 16 this year.  

Community Manager

Re: My sister has cancer how do I tell her 13 yr old daughter who lives with me?

That's a lot of responsibility to take on over a lifetime @jdbza, I imagine you don't get through all that without a certain level of resilience. When you're ready to take a moment for yourself, do you have people you can talk to - friends, partner, counsellor?