Sunday, October 6, 2013

Breaking the News

Some of you have been curious as to how my kids have taken the news of me being diagnosed with breast cancer.  And I've taken my time responding, because I wanted to see the full impact on the children before I explain.  I'm sure there is still plenty to come, but here is what has happened thus far.

Natalie, my nine year old, knew I was having pain, and knew I was going to the doctor to find out why.  I am always very honest and straightforward with her, so after each doctor visit I would explain what they did.  I explained to Natalie how mammograms work and I showed her pictures online.  I explained how biopsies work, and how they use microscopes to determine what's going on.  And through her inquisitive nature, she absorbed the information and asked more questions.

At one point she said, "I hope it's nothing bad", and I responded, "Well, if it is, we'll just deal with it like we do everything else". But for the most part, she didn't really connect the dots to a diagnosis.  She just wanted to learn about each test.

When I got the diagnosis on Monday, September 16th, I wrote to Natalie's teacher and told her what was going on.  I explained that I would be telling Natalie, and to please take it easy on her in the coming weeks.  Natalie is very sensitive and I was concerned that she would be having breakdowns at school.  Her teacher advised that there is testing all week, so please don't tell her until after school on Friday afternoon.  It was hard to keep it a secret with my sister coming to visit, and me running all over town getting tests, but I managed.

Friday came quickly, and I nervously waited for Natalie to get off the bus.  I had to tell her immediately, as the kids were due to go to their father's in just over an hour.  She came bounding down the driveway with a huge smile on her face, and I dreaded ruining that beautiful mood.  When she walked in, she exclaimed, "I had a GREAT day!" Ugh.  And I said, "That's wonderful!  Now come outside on the porch, I want to tell you something."  She knew it sounded important and stopped in her tracks.  I laughed and said, "Yep, we're going to talk about sex!"  I immediately got her infamous snear of death, because she did NOT enjoy that talk previously.  Still makes me laugh.

Anyway, we sat down, and I said, "Okay, so you know that the doctors have been trying to find out why I've been in pain... well, they figured it's Breast cancer".  She gasped, threw her hands over her mouth, and looked completely shocked and frightened.  Her only experience with breast cancer has been my home health aide's recent struggle with helping her friend through the final months of losing the battle.  That's all she knew.  And I said, "Calm down.  Before you get upset, I'm going to tell what cancer is and what they are going to do to help me."

I explained the best way I knew how, with an analogy.  I said that my body is like a loaf of bread, and cancer is like mold that grows on the bread.  It's the doctors' and medicine's job to kill the mold.  Still shocked by the news, I could see that she wasn't fully listening, but I continued.  I explained how chemotherapy works and what it will do to me, what surgery will do, and finally about radiation. I told her that I was going to get sicker before I get better.  I continued, and explained that she and Eliah would be staying at Daddy's house a lot while I worked on getting better. Each thing was explained as matter of fact as possible.

With the look of horror on her face, much like the sex talk, she squirmed in the chair, wanting to escape the moment.  I calmly asked her if she had any questions, nope.  Then I asked her what she was most concerned about, and she responded that she thought it was awful that I would lose my breasts and hair.  I said, "Look, they'll give me new ones, and my hair will grow back".   She just said, "Are we done?", and ran back into the house.  I knew I told her the right way, but still felt like I had failed the whole conversation.  Thankfully, within a half an hour, she was playing and squealing in the back yard as if nothing was wrong.


Almost a week went by before I saw Natalie again, and this time it was only for about fifteen minutes.  She hugged me tight, looked at my new port in my chest, and told me that she hopes I get better soon.  We spent the whole time hugging, pushing the hair back off each other's face, and kissing cheeks.


My first chemotherapy passed, and I spent several days trying to recover.  Once I started feeling better, I got to spent a couple hours with both children, almost two weeks after they left the first time.  I cried from the very moment they pulled in the driveway to the time they left.

The children were so happy to be home.  Natalie ran around saying, "I missed you Molly (to the dog)!  I missed you house!  I missed you bedroom!  I missed you fish!  I missed you Mama!"  It was so wonderful to feel the house filled with energy again.  We hugged and cried (well, I did) for what will never be long enough.  Eliah pulled my hair until my face was pressed to his over and over again.  He squealed with delight when he saw his toys, videos and the dinner I made for him (He loves my cooking).  It was overwhelming for all of us. (there's more under the photos)

As things settled down, Natalie started talking about my new short hair cut (post for another time) and how much she loved it.  And I pulled out the computer to show her the facebook group my friends and family have all joined.  She was so excited to see all the pictures, posts, and love.  She cringed at the photos of my chemo treatment, but still wanted to see everything that has been happening with me.  She laughed and smiled at how much support I've been getting.  And she started to get excited about breast cancer awareness month and her own role in supporting the cause.  She jumped up and ran to her room, collecting as many pink shirts as she could find.  She asked for her own Anncredible Fight tshirt, and said that she's been talking about me at school.  Apparently having a mom with breast cancer during awareness month makes her popular.

On the drive back to their father's house, Natalie began to talk openly about cancer and ask questions.  This was what I was waiting for and wanting.  She asked a couple questions that I cannot recall at the moment, but it lead to her asking, "So, there's zero chance you will die from this, right?".  And silence took over the van while I thought of how to respond.  Okay...  "No, Natalie, there is definitely a chance I could die from breast cancer.  We don't know anything right now.  But we are all going to die from something someday.  I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.  Just like your brother and the dog, we know there is something that could make them die, but we don't know when.  We love while we can.  And we enjoy the time we do have together. "  She snickered and said, "Wow, we have a lot of health conditions in our family!"  We all laughed.

Then I said, "No matter what, even if I die tomorrow, I will never leave you.  I will always be there when you need me."  Then the topic turned to what creature she wants me to be to come comfort her after I die.  No, not a butterfly... they're too common.  "No, Natalie, I don't think I can come visit as a big white tiger." Then finally, she decides on a yellow finch.  How I'm ever going to show up as a yellow finch, I don't know, but I will damn sure try.  I think I'll just stick to being an orb for Eliah like his other guardian angels.

By the time we reached our destination, she was satisfied that no matter what, all will be well.  And Eliah smiled his big happy boy smile as I unloaded his wheelchair from the van.  Hugs, kisses, more crying from me, and they headed towards their father once again.

I've gotten to see them once more, just yesterday for a couple hours.  And I was able to keep myself together for a visit full of snuggling, kisses, and laughing.  With chemotherapy coming up this week, it may be another couple weeks before I see them again.  By then, I should be bald.  I can't wait to see how that goes over with them.  Maybe I'll let Natalie draw on my head with a Sharpie.

All in all, I am pleased with how well my children have adapted to their new lifestyle.  I have been extremely gifted with children that are not only resilient and adaptable, but so loving and supportive.  I could not do this fight without them.  They are everything.


  1. Wonderful post. Your kids are resilient because that is what they have learned from YOU. You did everything just right, my friend. You were honest and forthcoming and explained it on their level. Good work, mama! And you are right, that all will be well. In the end, everything always is!!!! XOXO

  2. I continue to be in awe of your spirit and love. I will continue to send all my good mojo your way.