Straight Talk about Mesothelioma, a blog series created by Michael T. Milano, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncology specialist, as a resource for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones.


One of the reasons doctors encourage their patients to participate in support groups is that fellow patients can provide a wealth of information on how best to share with family members and loved ones the upsetting news of a mesothelioma diagnosis. Let’s face it, mesothelioma is a difficult diagnosis to receive and it can be challenging to share the news with loved ones.

Mesothelioma Help Now has a great article that details different approaches to take with children according to their age. Similarly, the American Cancer Society offers information on when and how to talk to children about a cancer diagnosis.

I encourage you to review these important resources. In the meantime, here is an overview of some important information:

Key Talking Points for Young Children and Grandchildren

For very young children, under the age of 3 or so, it can be enough simply to say that you are sick. A young child will not understand much beyond that, and will get confused by too
many details.

For older children, you can define mesothelioma and explain what is occurring inside your body. It may help to describe the symptoms rather than the disease itself, i.e. saying that it is hard for you to take a deep breath versus trying to explain the physical changes that are occurring at a cellular level.

Regardless of age level, answer a child’s questions honestly. Kids have a good sense of when adults are being evasive. It will scare them even more if they feel you are not being completely honest with them.

One last but difficult point regarding speaking with children and grandchildren about mesothelioma: young children will not fully understand what death is. If your prognosis is poor, you will have added difficulty of explaining what death means. The American Cancer Society recommends these explanations:

  • Death means that we will no longer see the person we love except in our hearts and minds.
  • Death means the person will no longer be physically there in our lives.
  • Death means the person we love will no longer be with us as they were before, but we will always have memories of them.

Key Talking Points for Older Children/Teens

While a pre-teens or teenagers will not likely have heard of mesothelioma, he or she will well understand the seriousness of a cancer diagnosis. It is best to take a direct approach, explaining your disease, its stage, the treatment you are or will be undergoing, and your prognosis. There is no point trying to shield older children as they typically have ready access to the Internet and other resources. If you don’t give them the information, they will find it on their own.

Have an open conversation, and let the child know that he or she is free to come to you at any point with any concerns or additional questions. Be clear about the support systems you’ve put in place not only to care for yourself, but to look after their needs as well.

Next article in this series: “The Nitty-Gritty Details of Hospice Care”