My husband and I have always subscribed to the philosophy of being as open and honest with our kids as is appropriate to their ages. We’ve also always encouraged them to ask questions. Problem with that is they always do.
In her first post, Justenjoyhim said she would only be giving us her story bit by bit. To give it all at once is overwhelming. That’s how we told the kids. Bit by bit.
We told Taylor and Katie I had a lump in my breast and my doctor wanted me to have a mammogram just to make sure it wasn’t anything bad. We told them I’d had both lumps and mammograms before and they were never anything to worry about. Of course we had to explain what a mammogram was. Taylor looked at me and finally asked, “Will they pop back into their normal shape after they’ve been squished like a pancake?”
When they got home from school the Wednesday of my tests we sat them down again and told them I’d be having surgery the following Tuesday. Because I didn’t have a definitive diagnosis – only a 95% probability of a malignancy – I don’t believe we used the word cancer. We simply told them the doctor didn’t like the look of things so she wanted to take it out just to be safe. Both Todd and I just sort of acted like it was no big deal. We figured there was no sense in worrying the kids until there was something to worry them about. Besides, Taylor’s 13th birthday was Saturday and we didn’t want to cast a pall over the celebration. I mean, come on. Becoming a teenager is a big thing!
On Tuesday I went in for my surgery, fairly certain I’d be coming home without a breast. We’d kept things as normal as possible and the kids went to school that morning knowing I wouldn’t be home until the next day, but more concerned about tests and end-of-the-year activities. My in-laws stayed at the house with the kids and continued to keep things ordinary.
Todd had me settled and comfy in the bed when they got home from school the next day. He ushered the kids into our room so we could fill them in. I didn’t say a whole lot, but Todd told them the lump had been cancer, however, the doctor felt certain she’d gotten all of it (even what had spread to the nodes, though he didn’t mention this). We told them about chemotherapy and how it may make me feel bad and lose my hair. We told them the doctor removed my entire breast to be sure she got it all. By this point things were rather somber so Todd told them I had a new nickname. Cyclops. This lightened the mood and we all got a good chuckle out of that, though I was more often referred to as Uniboob.
As I said in my initial post, both Taylor and Katie were old enough to know what cancer was. To them cancer was something that people died from. But when we shared the facts with them head on and they saw how calm we were, there was no freaking out. That’s not to say they didn’t ever have any bad moments – just like Todd and me – but I feel that they handled the entire experience very well.
I don’t know if we did everything the way we were supposed to. I’m nearly certain that we handled some things with inappropriate humor. But it seemed to work for us and I think I’ve got two pretty well adjusted kids despite a rotten year and various related obstacles since then.