Cancers are now becoming a common illness among Malawians and the numbers are rising even higher with the HIV and Aids pandemic. However, as a parent who has just been diagnosed with cancer, telling your children that you have the disease can be a very daunting task. Cheu Mita finds out how best to do it.
For Alpha Chidothe, realising that she has cancer was not such a shock but when she had to have her leg amputated, the task of breaking the news to her children was daunting.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I had to tell my children,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says of her son Patience (15) and daughter Juliet (7).
She says she did this three weeks before the operation.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My son simply sighed when I told him the news, but my daughter asked if I would limp thereafter.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I said yes, and she told me that her friends would laugh at her,Ã¢â‚¬Â narrates Alpha.
Chidothe states that her son also said he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to see his mother in pain, so he only visited her three days after the operation.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t cry on the day of the operation but I did so three days later, when my son visited me. He came with my friendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s daughter, also called Patience. They brought me a get well soon card and they signed it together, with love Patience and Patience. After reading the card, I sobbed uncontrollably,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Chidothe.
She advises other parents toÃ‚Â tell their children of their cancer diagnosis because they (children) might offer much-needed support.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My son always reminds me that I am lucky the cancer attacked my leg and not my brain or liver. This gives me strength. I know I am not the first to lose a leg,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says.
Expert patient Beth Brophy says the only thing harder than learning you have cancer is having to tell your kids about it.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My daughters were 5 and 8 when I was diagnosed, and I agonised over what to tell them. Learning you have breast cancer is a terrifying experienceÃ¢â‚¬â€you want to try not to pass that sense of overwhelming anxiety to them,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says.
Brophy says, unfortunately, you do have to tell your children. Even if it were possible to hide it, doing so would forever erode their trust in you. As you and your family anticipate your treatment regimen, telling your children the truth about your illness can alleviate their anxiety and fear.
She says although you may hide it, children are quick to pick up when something is wrong.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In fact, I made it a rule to never break down in front of my children.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She advises that you ought to get to the point and be truthful about your disease. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t over-promise.
Malawi currently has neither facilities to treat and palliate cancer nor a national cancer control plan. According to oncologist, Dr Leo Masamba, at least 25 000 people are living with cancer in Malawi. According to the World Health Organisation, Malawi loses an estimated 1 621 women from cervical cancer every year.