Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mommy Has Cancer (and other tough things I've had to say to my children)

My sweet Alex was in 6th grade when I picked her up from school that day.  I'd just learned, on phone call in my office downtown Chicago, that I had breast cancer.  Now I had to look into her beautiful face (that you see above) and tell her, somehow.  Explain cancer to a child.

All she knew of cancer was what I'd inadvertently taught her:  Cancer took away many of the people we loved and that loved us. We did the Walk & Roll event downtown since she was born (before, actually). We used to pin the 'walking in memory of Grandma Roberta' tag on her stroller when she was too small to actively participate. Licked yogurt lids, bought endless amounts of pink ribbon merchandise, joined in where/whenever possible just to help 'the cause'...without knowing exactly where all those dollars were going.  We didn't care, we just wanted to do something.

And now here we were.  She was 9 years old and terrified.  "Your mama died, and so did everyone else. I don't want you to die yet! Not until I'm really really at least 30!" At the time of my first diagnosis, it was as if I were on a planet alone; there were scant few resources to help young women going through breast cancer.  A young mom?  Even fewer resources - we were on our own.

I found gentle ways to explain that chemotherapy, while hard to take and yes toxic, is also hard for the cancer to take.  I talked her through what the surgery might be like (in round, simple terms - nothing graphic).  That the recovery would be tricky, but yes, she could hop in bed with me.  Hug me. Snuggle with me. The research we did was an amazing education for both her and myself, and to this day has provided a good foundation for understanding what it means to be proactive with health care.

Her little sisters were another story entirely.  Catie was 3, Bella was 2.  Bella laughed when she saw my bald head, and that was the end of her curiosity.  Catie, always the fashionista even as a toddler, requested that I always wear a scarf or 'fake hair'.  There was a great debate about why on EARTH I would opt for a wig that looked so much like my other hair.  Couldn't you just try the purple and silver wig, mommy?  Just for a little while?

And then there was Noah. Pregnant with him for my first diagnosis, he went through all the chemotherapy with me.  The surgeries and radiation that followed his birth became just as much his story as it was my own.  5 years later, with a new tumor, I had to explain the situation to a little man who assumed (like the rest of us) that cancer was something in our past.

Through it all, I relied on my faith, my family and a growing network of breast cancer sisters.  I now know where to direct newly diagnosed mommies and daddies when they need a book to help explain what chemotherapy is (NoWhere Hair), when they need to find an app explaining how to do self exams (Get In Touch), when new scarves are needed for bald heads (, when they need someone to help watch the kiddos (my little waiting room and nannyangelnetwork), when bills need to be paid (Pink Fund) and vacations seem impossible (Little Pink and Camp Kesem). And of course, an amazing online resource of strength and compassion (#BCSM)

There is help - you don't have to walk this journey alone.  Reach out to us. Allow us to help lift you and your kiddos. 


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