Let me state emphatically that I’m sure people will say there is no right or wrong way to talk to your children about something like illness. Let me also state that I’m sure I did it wrong, but it is right for me, and for my children.
As a child, I remember vividly knowing that my own mother was suffering. There were hushed conversations, whispers, tears and anxiety that I knew and could feel, but my parents choose to do what they felt was right for the family. Back then, illness and disease were secrets kept in the family and not something that were openly discussed. A persons business was their business, and good for gossip, but it was very impolite to discuss openly or ask questions. Even when my grandmother showed us her mastectomy scars I remember feeling this was wrong; I shouldn’t know or see this. I remember her telling me when her prosthetic boob fell out of her bra in mid-sentance, while gardening and talking with a male neighbor. Like any self-respecting “gal” of her stature, she just covered it up with the dirt she was digging in and kept on with the conversation. I remember around the age of 9 or 10 when I finally asked the right question, or enough questions, when my parents finally told me my mother had Multiple Sclerosis. Wow… Still hurts to this day. I had so many questions and no where to start.
Based on my personal experience, I took a different course. My three year old (Holland) is really too young, and frankly not interested enough, to really be a part of a sit down conversation. But I wanted my 4 year old to have a different experience. I wanted Hannah to not hear rumors and whispers, and not be afraid of words like cancer. I wanted to tell her and take that power.
The night I received my official diagnosis and we knew what we thought to be the extent of the disease, we decided to talk to the kids together. Hubby really left it up to me to pick words to use, and how to shape the conversation, but he sat there by my side showing support and comfort.
Right after dinner, November 26th, 2013, I told Hannah that Mommy has something wrong with her. That there is something bad growing inside my boobies and the doctor is going to cut them off. It’s called cancer. I’m going to have to be in the hospital, but I won’t be gone long. When I come home, I’m going to feel bad but it will get better every day. Then I’m going to have to have medicine for a long time that will make me feel sick and make my hair fall out, but when it does we know the medicine is working. We talked about how she can help me with picking out hats and wigs, and since it’s only for a little while it can be fun.
It really stuck, and she has taken time to ask questions along the way. Neither of my children show any fear of the words, or of cancer. In fact, I may have done too good of a job. When my father arrived for Thanksgiving, Hannah proclaimed that “Mommy has cancer in her boobies and they’re getting cut off”. Poor Dad. But she is loving and supportive, and very in tune with how I am feeling on any given day. And my little Holland is doing just as well with such a hard topic. When her daycare director asked her how her mommy was doing, Holland stated emphatically “My Mommy got her boobies cut off! (Lifting up her shirt and showing her chest) And now she looks just like MEEEEEEEEEEE!”
Out of the mouthes of babes…