My wife is surviving (so far) an aggressive form of cancer called leiomyosarcoma. She's just had a second test after sugery removed the tumour, and we are waiting to find out whether the cancer is re-occurring. We'll know that in two weeks; my wife looks upbeat but she is fearful.

Meanwhile, in the next few weeks my daughters, 18 and 16, are having major end-of-shool exams (in the UK, A-levels and GCSEs repectively). Good news are good of course, but the probability of bad news is not negligible, and in that case, the information will arrive in the middle of this key moment in their life. The scan took place as they were at school, so they don't know the results are supposed to come in at that time.

I am certain that we must hide it from them until exams are over. The question is, how? What do we tell them afterwards?

  • Do they know the results are supposed to come in at that time?
    – skymningen
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 12:00
  • God point. No - the scan took place as they were at school.
    – boisvert
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 18:48

5 Answers 5


Firstly I'd like to say- congratulations to you both on getting this far through and doing as well as you have.

Now- I have been through this exact situation, near enough- my Father was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer when I was about 6 months from doing my GCSEs -However there is some difference as he was a single parent.

For my part, I can say that the best thing he was do was process the news himself, then come to me once he'd considered things. Throughout, I was glad that I was told and trusted to be adult enough to "deal" with it. Did this affect me through my study and exams? Yes. Did he go into remission? Yes. Did it come back again, when I was studying and also doing my A-Levels? Yes.

However for all of this, being obejective, I know for sure I'd have been devestated for it to have gone otherwise- kids do take things on the chin and get used to certain bumps in the road and treat it as "just how things are"- but it's a sign of trust, responsibility and adulthood that they be informed, after all, you're family.

At the end of the day you're all there for one another, through thick and thin. It will only worry you and your wife more to continue dreading telling them, of knowing that you haven't told them and how it will affect them. Sure, they'll need support through this and the thought of that may seem be overwhelming considering the stress that your wife and you are going through, but equally your kids are there for you as well.

My Father took great solace in knowing that I knew, we were there for each other, we understood that some changes would need to be made here and there- that he didn't always have the energy to do things so I could help out and over time it meant I needed to be home more as well. But do I regret it? No. It gave me comfort to know I was there for him as well, just as your kids will take comfort for the same- otherwise they may feel they missed out on chances to do things that otherwise they'd never have done.

For one? Spend as much time as you can with them, another is taking photos, videos, immortalising memories and for both "sides" of the Cancer monster, from those with it and those supporting, to feel that they are and will be getting what they feel they need. It isn't just support and comfort, it's an appreciation and realization for life and what it means that you don't often have drop on your doorstep and for better or worse, it broadens your perspective.

  • Thanks for your perspective - and you are right, we need to perceive this evolving over time, not as a one-off decision.
    – boisvert
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 10:55
  • You're welcome and I hope it helps. Bear in mind that other services such as macmillan can help you all as well, so never be afraid to reach out and see what is available. It never hurts and is entirely free, even if they aren't directly helpful they can assist with putting you in other directions as well. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 11:51

As you are talking about life-changing news for your wife, I don't believe that you can actually hide the emotions that come with getting the good or bad news.

Assuming that your daughters are aware of the battle against cancer, I would recommend to try to discuss with them to adjust their revision schedules for the exams such that they can have a couple of less effective learning days after the medical results come in. That way there is the room to grieve (or celebrate) without the risk that they haven't studied enough for the exams, although the exams will likely still be felt to be doubly hard when you are feeling emotional.


I am speaking as a daughter here. I have not been in an actual similar situation, the things my parents tried to hide from me did happen after I left home for university so I was older(but similarly, they decided to let me know after my exams for that term) and it was not that serious (at least it developed all positively, one situation could have gotten very serious any second, but didn't). But I tried to remember how I felt.

I do now have a deal with my parents about this: They are not supposed to hide important information from me for more than 48 hours. If it is not just 48 more hours I need to pass my exam or whatever is keeping them from telling me, it is enough time for me to be informed and get back at least in a basic emergency state of functioning. If it is more than 48 hours, it is likely that I will know. I can sense these things. (Not in a psychic way, but I am empathic.) And sensing something but not knowing is harder for me than knowing and handling that knowledge. I can "hear" my mum not telling me something over the phone in most cases. I can sense them being stressed out.

This works, because I function well in "emergency situations". I do not function well in "I don't know what the problem is, but something is wrong" situations. This might vary for your daughters. (Each one of them could handle it differently, which makes the situation harder.)

The longer you have to keep the information from them, the more likely they are to sense something in the air and wonder and worry. So please, if you decide to not tell them (you know them better than anyone here), watch them closely. Be prepared to tell them if you can see they are feeling uneasy and worried. Definitely, tell them when they ask what is going on. Do not, under any circumstance, break their trust by actually lying to cover it up (instead of just "not saying anything, neither a lie nor the truth").

I understand where you are coming from. I understood my parents. But I was upset. Things could have developed worse and I would not have had a chance to be there in time. (Which is different for your daughters as they still live with you, I guess.) It took me a year after the last occurrence of this to regain my trust completely. I kept worrying that there was something I wasn't being told. That is just me, but I think it is not what you want them to feel.

I needed to edit something in: Things are very different for younger children. But 16 and 18 is in my opinion old enough for them to know these things in detail. I was a very "factual" child. If I knew the facts, no matter how hard the situation, I would fight. If I didn't, I would feel lost and spend uncountable hours to research options myself. Nowadays, they will not need uncountable hours to get a potentially wrong idea about her odds of survival. Parents probably know how ready their kids are for the facts. As they know about her illness, I am sure they already know quite a bit of detail.


Sometimes the best way (depending on the persons time left) is to not mention it. It can sometimes save them from lots of emotional distress but in the end leave the sickly person with little more comfort.


Tell your kids to have a small chit-chat in the living room or wherever. First, ask them about the exam. Second, tell them not to freak out and just tell them their mother has cancer. At first they'll be in shock. But it'll past as the days go by. They have no choice but to just accept whatever your wife's destiny. But I hope, she can go through this and survive.

  • 2
    "tell them not to freak out" is completely unnecessary and almost absurd request considering the circumstances. It is understandable and expected for news like this to be absolutely devastating. Some people will, most certainly, "freak out" (depending on their personalities) and to expect them to remain otherwise (and not express their emotions) is unhealthy and applying unnecessary pressure on a very very difficult situation already. -1.
    – user30275
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 19:08
  • They already know their mum has cancer. What they don't know - and I'll know in 2 weeks - is whether her chances of survival are 2/3 or 1/3. That's what I'm wondering about not announcing until after the exams are over, given that the news will arrive slap bang in the middle of the period. Sorry everyone about being so blunt.
    – boisvert
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 10:52

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