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Kids, mom's got the cancer...

Episode V: I hope you...

The most dreaded part of all of the cancer ordeal was how and when to tell the kids. We were hoping that we would have some answers or treatment plan after the Oncology appointment, but did not. I debated on if there was a right time. And no time was a right time, just the best time.

I spent time looking up ways to talk to your kids about cancer. I tried to see if there was some "right" way to do it. I did not find any real answers other than you have to do what you feel was best and not to lie. In the end, I know my children and had to do what was right for my family.

I knew that my house was about to be full of changes. New words were going to be used until I was finished with treatment. Words like cancer, chemotherapy, surgery, and more. I knew that I was going to go through a lot of changes. I would lose my hair, be sick at times, and those things would be visible. So many things would occur and there was no way that any of them could be hidden. Nor would I want them hidden. Kids are smart and they know when things are not normal. Cancer was not going to be normal.

I did not want to hide it or keep it a secret. That would only imply that there was something bad or scary about what I was doing. I wanted them to not be afraid because I was not afraid. I wanted them to see my strength because I was strong. I wanted them to be able to talk about it with me because others were going to ask why I had no hair or why I looked different. They needed to be able to answer that. Others would say things to them that could inspire fear, like was their mom going to die. I wanted them to know how to answer that. As much as I can control the comments at home, I have no control at what others were going to say to them and many people have experiences (good & bad) with cancer. So I approached it just like most things in life, they needed to be able to communicate with me about anything.

My children are seven years apart and their comprehension of cancer was also vastly different. I knew I needed to have two separate conversations that could be age-appropriate. So, I opted to talk to them separately. That way my older child would have more freedom to ask tougher questions and I would not be worried of my youngest's fears.

My awesome kids with me on Mother's Day!

My daughter, 6:

Instead of just coming out with the news I asked some basic questions about being sick and various illnesses. She knew what a heart attack was, our dog just recently passed from that. She understood medicines, she had multiple strep infections this year and understood medicine made you better. She had no real idea what cancer meant other than her grandfather died from lung cancer before she was born. She was aware of that and wondered about if I would die. After explaining that it was a different type of cancer, she was reassured.

Her lack of understanding cancer might have been a good thing. I was able to explain that I was sick and I was going to take medicine and have surgery to make myself better. I used the word cancer so she would also be able to use the word and see it did not have to be bad.

The conversation was short and sweet, we had it over after school snacks. Shortly after, she wanted to go down the street and play. Her concept of cancer was still innocently child-like.

My son, 13:

Like the conversation with my daughter, I took a similar approach. He had studied a lot about the human body throughout the school year, so I quizzed him. He knew a lot about a lot. I eventually made my way to cancer. He had studied cell division and understood that it could form in certain areas of the body. He knew it could cause death.

Once he explained what he thought it meant, I told him that I had breast cancer. His eyes about popped out of his head in disbelief. I had to keep myself together. I explained what type of cancer it was. That we were going to do more tests before treatment began. That we were going to do whatever we needed to to beat it. The only question he asked was, "What is your prognosis?" He really just wanted to know if I was going to live. And that was the essential question... and one I never asked any doctor. I have never even thought about dying, which was what I told him. I didn't consider that even an option.

We had to go over how I may need his help and that we were always open for questions. That we would share with him more as we found out. And we did, and he really appreciated being part of the process.

The conversation was less short and less sweet. Even though he is 13, he is still young. He understood what cancer was and grasped the overall concept of his mom having it. However, he is still a child looking at his mother trying to be brave and sad at the same time. I knew he was going to get online and research as much as he could... he was going to reassure or worry himself through some statistics.

By far one of the hardest things I have had to do... ever!

In my head...

So, I was stuck in the middle. I have had to tell my parents about having cancer, which is out of order. Parents do not expect their kids to have these issues before they do. And I have had to tell my kids about having cancer, which is fearful for them. Children do not expect to worry about their parents life expectancy at this young age.

I tried to look up online how to tell children about cancer. And really all I got was not to lie to them and to keep it on a level they would understand. I hope I accomplished that. Cancer has not or will not be a fear word in our home. I have cut jokes about being sick. I have allowed them to do the same. I will not let them fear that cancer will change me. While I might get sick or feel bad, I will have to live all that I have lectured to them:

In life you are going to make mistakes 
and bad things are going to happen, 
it is how you deal with them 
and what you learn from them that is important. 
- Me

Now I have to show them by example, I am going to deal with cancer in a way that exemplifies what I believe... in being strong, positive, and able to learn during the process.

"Truly how wonderful the mind of a child is." - Yoda

Episode Reference:  I Hope You Dance, Lee Ann Womack song


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