Q: My spouse and I have been married for 20 years. We have had a very good marriage. We communicate well. We love and respect each other. We have been blessed with good jobs and made wise investments. We have two lovely children who work and study hard, but, out of the blue, we experienced a great shocker. My wife went for a routine check and found that she has cancer and it is advanced and spreading fast. We do not understand how this could be. She has started treatment, and fortunately, there is no adverse reaction. Looking at her from outside, no one would know that she is terminally ill. She continues to work hard at work and home. In fact, she is the life of the home. We have decided not to tell the children because the younger one is preparing for GSAT next year and the older one is preparing for CSEC. We do not believe the younger one can handle such news and we do not want to disturb their minds. However, their grandparents disagree with us and believe we should tell them. Who is right?
A: The diagnosis of a spouse having cancer is very stressful. It could be that you and your wife are in a denial stage about the terminal illness, hence your desire not to tell the children. Perhaps, deep down you are hoping for a cure or healing and then you will tell the children the story with a happy ending. Perhaps, you might also be angry because this cancer has the potential to disturb your happy and successful marriage. It would be very disturbing and disruptive for your household since the house revolves around your wife. Nevertheless, children who are studying for GSAT exams are very smart and doing more advanced work than what you did at a similar age. Furthermore, the older one who is doing CSEC would be able to handle such news. In fact, children who have serious illness handle their situation far better than adults in many instances. Perhaps, you are projecting your fears on the children. Telling them might even help the family to become stronger and closer, and they might even help you to cope with this serious and traumatic illness.
This affliction on your wife provides an opportunity to explain things about cancer. You did not mention whether your wife had breast cancer or cervical, etc. Children need to know that breast cancer is not a lifestyle, but primarily gender based. You have questions about how your wife contracted cancer so suddenly, so it is advisable that you have a candid and fulsome talk with your doctor. Then, talk to the children, because they need to be told the realities, the implications and adjustments that will have to be made. Fortunately, you have good jobs and, hopefully, good health insurance to help with medical bills. The good investments of the past will be of benefit to you and the family.
Tell the truth
Perhaps, you fear the reaction of the children. However, if you tell it to them truthfully and compassionately, then it will minimise any negative reaction. And just in case there is negative reaction by the children, seek the help of a counsellor and the grandparents. It is not who is right or wrong concerning the advice of the grandparents, but rather what is the better way to handle a terminal illness within the family. There is experience and wisdom in the advice of the grandparents. Imagine if the children should hear from a family member or friend. Jamaica is a small country and the probability of the children hearing from someone else is high. It is better they hear from you and your wife.
As a parent, you also need to understand that a child does not have to have good news only. They need to understand from early that life is a mixed bag of health and disease, wealth and poverty, opportunities and setbacks.