Telling My Kids I Have Cancer

I was diagnosed with cancer when my boys were 5 and 7. It is exquisitely painful to watch your children be confronted with a tremendous loss of innocence at such a young age, while at the same time breathtaking and inspiring to watch how brave they are in the face of uncertainty. For example:

When I initially was diagnosed, we waited to understand the treatment plan before telling them what was happening. I was concerned because they both knew my own mother had died from breast cancer before they were born, so I wanted to protect them from that fear as much as possible. Once it became clear that chemotherapy was going to cause me to lose my hair completely, we knew we would have to discuss the side effects of my new medicine, but I was still hoping to protect them from the C-word.

We sat them down to explain the side effects, and the first question out of my oldest son’s mouth was, “Do you have cancer?” Initially I was evasive, saying it was something like that. However, when he asked me the same question six weeks later, I knew he needed to hear it. Telling the boys helped us all, making it easier to undergo the five months of chemo prior to surgery.

It opened the door for them to express their worries and fears. They needed to know if I would die, when I was in pain, to express their anger at the cancer. My youngest took it upon himself to tell anyone who seemed curious, “This is my mom, she’s bald.” He was also very proud to tell people when my hair was starting to grow again.

The day before the double mastectomy, the kids had a half-day of school. This meant not only was I trying to squeeze in a full day of work seeing clients in my private practice but I also had to juggle getting home in time to take them off the bus, take them with me for the plastic surgeon to draw the surgery lines on my body, and pick up my husband from his work (since we only had one car) so he could drop me back off at work to finish meeting with clients. It was one of those days where if any of the timing were to go off, we would be in trouble.

At the end of the appointment, my amazing plastic surgeon turned to the boys and asked them if they had any questions for her. My oldest asked with a strained voice, “Will she die?” To watch them be vulnerable, brave, protective and honest about their feelings made me so proud of them. I knew they worried about me dying throughout the treatment process, and I was really impressed with the way they were able to talk about it.

So if you have children and you are beginning this process, be prepared for them to be quite intuitive. Keep it as simple as possible, allow their questions to guide you as to what they are prepared to hear and need to understand. Honesty with my children  allowed them to be more open with their feelings, as well as to keep the sacred trust intact.

Follow this journey on Creative Transformations.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Purestock

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Cancer

Boat at sea at sunset

Coming Out, as Dying

I am coming out, as dying. In November 2015, I was diagnosed with stage four cancer. “Four” befour I even reached 40. Four. Cancer. I am coming out, as dying. Imagine being told you are going to die a painful death, sooner than nearly everyone you know, by several decades. Think about the pain. Let [...]
Woman canoeing at sunset on Jackfish Lake, Manitoba.

What I Learned at Young Adult Cancer Camp

How did I get myself into this? Shooting down glacial runoff in class four rapids with nothing between me and drowning, but a plastic orange kayak? Me, whose idea of an athletic challenge is taking an intermediate yoga class instead of beginner. Obviously, I misunderstood when I signed up for kayaking camp. I had envisioned [...]
Woman sitting in a comfortable chair drinking coffee and looking through window at snow covered mountain.

What 'Quality of Life' Means to Me as I Adapt to Cancer

can·cer ‘kansər/ – disease; causing the body and mind to adapt, overcome, and embrace change. Quality of life: What do these three seemingly simple words mean to you? Someone who is living with a permanent illness which will impact their “quality of life” will hear this phrase from time to time. Someone like me who [...]
Woman at salon getting her hair done

When a Cancer Patient Confronted Me About My Hair Extensions

The stress from caretaking had taken its toll. My hair, once long and healthy, had thinned and fallen out. At first in the shower where strands would cling together near the drain and again on my brush when any effort to make it look fuller only resulted in clumps left in the bristles. A visit [...]