Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Telling your kids you have cancer is not an easy thing. Determining when and how much you tell them is equally as hard. Our focus was ensuring the lines of communication were always open and let me tell you they sometimes have some very interesting questions, but I am so glad they feel comfortable asking.
I have two boys and when I was diagnosed with breast cancer they were 6 and 10. Throughout the testing, biopsies, and being diagnosed I said NOTHING to them. I cried in the shower, googled all night long, and carried on as if their Mom's entire life and future had not been turned upside down. I read online how to tell your kids, I bought the books, I made notes, I looked up YouTube videos and nothing, absolutely nothing was making me feel any better about having to explain to two innocent Mama's boys that I was sick and all the unknowns that came with that.
Before I started chemo I knew I needed to explain to them what was going to happen. I had never had such heavy shoulders, this was not what you talk to little kids about and especially when it is about their Mom. So here goes, makes me teary just thinking about it and they are probably still to this day what I cry and worry about the most.
My husband and I sat down with our oldest and said we had something important to talk about. I told him I had had some tests done after finding a lump in my breast and that the doctor has confirmed I have cancer. He didn't say much, I cried and began explaining how they felt it was early and curative. I would have chemotherapy and it would cause me to be sicker before I got better. I found this video which helped explain that the medicine would be killing the weeds (cancer cells), but at the same time it also killed the flowers (healthy cells) and that I would not feel well and need more cuddles and love than ever. I was afraid to tell him I would lose my hair. As I took a moment before talking about the side effects he looked at me and asked "Are you going to die?". To have your 10-year-old know that it was a possibility was a very tough moment and one I can remember vividly. I answered everything he asked and to that question, I told him that I was very confident in my treatment, that I had a great team of doctors looking out for me and their goal was to have me live a long happy life. He asked about surgery, he wanted to know why they would remove my breasts. He said the words "breast cancer" a few times and he was quite calm and didn't seem to be bothered by the conversation. I promised we would keep him up to date on everything that happened and answer any questions he had. It went much better than I thought and I felt such a sense of relief in being honest, however, my heart hurt, knowing I am sharing difficult news and worry with my boy.
About 10 minutes into the conversation my youngest joined us and we shared with him the video and notes of the conversation which he replied: "What's for dinner, this is boring". At that moment, it was exactly what I needed to hear, he was 6 he doesn't get it and I was so glad he didn't. The moment made us all laugh, we ended with a family hug and went and had dinner.
The books pictured below were great resources for talking to my boys about cancer and hair loss. My youngest was obsessed with me losing my hair. He shared that too many people which caused lots of questions but was a great way to get the conversation started with his teachers and his friend's parents. I found this website helpful as it explains tips for talking to your child about cancer.
As I went through treatment I continued to have open conversations with the kids. Asking them if they had questions, were worried, and keeping them in the loop about what was happening. I learned that young kids are very much concerned with "how will this affect them?" and to not be hurt or think they don't care. We tried to keep their lives as normal as possible throughout.
My oldest struggled with my hair loss, you can read more in the blog titled "Losing Your Hair Is More Than A Vanity Issue". Other than that, he was supportive, loving, and took great care of me. Being 18 months later I still ask often if he has questions or concerns, we talk about recurrence and focus on enjoying each day we get together.
Parenting through a cancer diagnosis and treatment is difficult. There are great resources available and I encourage any Moms out there to ask for help. Every day I wonder what it would be like for my kids if I wasn't here and who would have kitchen games of tag, dance parties, bake their favorite treats, and bounce with them on the trampoline? I know that that is a reality I will forever live with, so I try and enjoy them, let the little things go, and be kind to myself that not everyday needs to be all about them. More to come on making Mommy-moments for yourself.