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Cancer Health Center

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Surviving Thyroid Cancer: Sofia Vergara's Story

How this actress and mom faced a health scare early in her career.

Talking to Kids About Cancer

Vergara says one of the hardest things about being diagnosed with cancer was telling her young son, Manolo. "I tried not to panic in front of him," she says. "Of course, I told him that I had to go to the doctor and have an operation, but I didn't want it to be very dramatic. I explained that I was going to try and take care of it, but what can an 8-year-old kid do?"

Vergara was right to be open with her son, says Jen Singer, a New Jersey writer who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2007, when her sons were 8 and 10. She's created the web site as a resource for parents like herself and Vergara.

Nearly 3 million children in the U.S. are living with a parent who has cancer or has survived cancer -- and half a million of them are witnessing the earliest and most intense stage of their mom's or dad's treatment.

"When kids are old enough to understand what cancer means -- probably around 8 or so -- you need to use that word and explain there are different types of cancer," Singer says. "If your particular cancer is curable, say that. If it's highly treatable, say that. Put it as positively as possible."

What else does your child need to know?

You can't catch it. "When you tell a child you're sick, they think of things like colds, and they worry it could happen to them, too," Singer says.

You didn't cause it. "Kids have magical thinking," says Singer. "They believe they can make things happen with their thoughts. You need to reassure them that this didn't happen because they had a bad thought about you."

Your life isn't going to be turned upside down. Let your children know they will still go to school and soccer practice and so forth as usual -- but maybe Grandma or the neighbor will take them sometimes instead of Mom or Dad. "Keeping the schedule as much like before as possible is key to your child feeling safe," Singer explains.

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