When Someone A Child Knows Has Cancer

Written by Debbie Riek, Education Coordinator | Sep 22, 2009 4:03 PM

When Mrs. MacGrady is diagnosed with cancer, Arthur and his friends all act differently to the news. Arthur and D.W. rush to her side with heaps of chicken soup and stuffed animals, Muffy tries to pretend nothing in her life has changed, and Francine is so upset she can't even bring herself to visit Mrs. MacGrady. In this two part episode parents and kids learn how they can come together to support Mrs. MacGrady and each other. Lance Armstrong makes a special appearance to show Francine and the Elwood City residents how they can take a stand or ride a bike for cancer survivors.

The ARTHUR website provides an activity booklet for families to inform children and provide support when an important adult in a child’s life is diagnosed with cancer. Talking honestly and openly with a child about cancer and encouraging him or her to ask questions is an important first step. The suggestions in the booklet were developed with the help of the PACT program (Parenting At a Challenging Time) at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. Here are some of the guidelines from the booklet that may be helpful in starting a conversation:

  • Find out what children already know. By finding out what a child has already heard, noticed, or perhaps imagined about a person’s illness you will discover what they understand and what worries or misconceptions they may have.
  • Use the real words. Use the word cancer when you talk about the illness. Clear language can prevent misunderstandings.
  • Be truthful and hopeful. Let children know that the medical team is working very hard to help the person become strong and well again. The person may feel worse for a little while as the medicine , radiation or surgery does its job, but when the treatment is over, the person will hopefully be healthy again.
  • Encourage children to ask questions. The booklet gives examples of common questions from young children and school-age children as well as suggestions on how to answer those questions.
  • Respect children’s feelings. When someone is very sick, it’s often hard for children (and grown-ups!) to know what to say or do. Let children know that you know that he/she cares about the person.


In addition to the family activity booklet, LIVESTRONG provides lesson plans for teachers in kindergarten through high school with lessons connected to the National Learning Standards for health and language arts . The lessons as well as information on getting students involved in LIVESTRONG at School will inspire children to help make a difference in the fight against cancer.

We would love to hear your comments on the resources provided or about your own story of helping children cope with cancer.

Connect with witf's multimedia, interactive effort Facing Cancer Together at


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