Tag Archives: breast cancer

How To Tell Your Four Year Old You Have Cancer

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…

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Follicle Follies

It’s that time… the time in nearly every chemo patient’s life when your hair starts to go. I had thought I might escape this part, even though my oncologist assured me that the chance my hair won’t fall out receiving my chemo regiment was only 1%. So let’s review for you follicley full friends what it’s actually like to get to bald.

My normal lush locks

My normal lush locks

I’m sure every woman reading can empathize with always wanting different hair. If it’s curly, you want it straight and spend countless hours with a flat iron to achieve that look. If it’s straight, you want curls, and spend countless hours with curly hair product, curling irons and curlers to achieve that luscious, movie-star look. Nothing will make you appreciate what you have, like someone telling you you’re going to lose it in approximately 3 weeks.

I’ve been working hard to ensure that my babies (3 and 4 years old) aren’t surprised when Mommy has no hair. We talk it up as something new and ways we can have fun: wigs, hats, scarves, etc. I think, though, that I may have talked it up too much. My first day of chemo I came home from the hospital and Hannah exclaimed  (with some disappointment) “Mommy! You still have your hair!” Well that morning,  Sarah and I went upstairs to let Hannah know that we were starting this new step in my treatment. We talked about medicine and things that will happen, and hair. Luckily for me, Sarah keeps a photo in her wallet from her bald days. She asked Hannah if she wanted to see what Mommy might look like with no hair. Hannah took the photo and looked at it for a while, without saying anything. Then she looked at me and quietly said, “Mommy, it’s beautiful!” Well of course Sarah and I both well up with tears. (Hey! Don’t judge.) And since then she’s been on Hair Watch.

Transition hair

Transition hair

No about how it feels to lose your hair; it hurts. It feels like you’ve had your hair in a really tight pony tail for 2 weeks and then take it out. My actual hair hurts,  not to mention my scalp. There are those that will argue this, as clearly your hair doesn’t have nerves, to which I say pblblblblblblblblbl. YOU have chemo and lose your hair then tell me it doesn’t hurt.

True to my whack-a-mole analogy, my hair literally started falling out all of the sudden, in a meeting on Wednesday. I decided to cut it short so it won’t be so hard to go my normal hair to bald. I like it. It will be great when it starts to grow back in.

For now, all we can do is sit and wait to see how many days left until we take it all.

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A Days Work

Have you ever been super excited to go to work? Walking with a serious pep in your step, practically skipping, with a stupid grin stuck on your face? I haven’t either… until today. Yes, my friends, today I went to the office for the first time since December 18, 2013. It was glorious.

Why, may you ask, would I do that? Because I CAN! I don’t feel good, I feel like ME. I can’t over express that in the absence of feeling sick, pain, nauseous, weak, yaddah, yaddah is a blissful sense of- being.

Don’t get me wrong, there are challenges. My first meeting this morning I walked in and surprised my colleagues, including my boss, my senior vice president, 2 VPs, lawyers, directors and a few worker bees like myself. Everyone was so kind and generous with their smiles and words. Not wanting to distract too much from this meeting I quickly take the nearest seat, next to my SVP. As I pull myself up to the conference table, with everyone still looking and smiling at me, these gigantic new, unwieldy, tissue expanded mounds of not-yet-reconstructed boobs knock directly into the table for all to see. Somewhat embarrassed that I feel like I can’t control my body I immediately let out a nervous laugh and go into a completely inappropriate diatribe about my new fake boobs, resplendent with a full description of my last fill, where they have grown into my arm pits and how misshapen they are. Silence. Absolute silence as I see a few smiles, more than one mouth agape, and once I exclaim “I still got it”, heartwarming laughter.

For one day, today, I was someone other than cancer. I’ll take that.

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Word of the day: neu-tro-PEN-ic

Wikipedia, in it’s infinite crowdsourced wisdome, defines it as this: Neutropenia, occasionally spelled neutropaenia or neutropoenia, from Latin prefix neutro- (neither, for neutral staining) and Greek suffix -πενία (deficiency), is a granulocyte disorder characterized by an abnormally low number of neutrophils. Neutrophils usually make up 50-70% of circulating white blood cells and serve as the primary defense against infections by destroying bacteria in the blood.

I have a slight variation on that as I am now an expert, having gone through exactly 1 chemo treatment. I would define it as the inability to sit or stand for more than a few minutes without feeling like you’re going to
a) pass out
b) throw up
c) poop yourself
d) all of the above, in various combinations, in rounds and waves

It also feels remarkably like when I have gotten food poisoning. You feel awful (see above). When you finally lie down long enough that you don’t feel the immediate need to puke, you think you’re going to be ok. You get cocky. You decide to make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, or a bowl of cereal. You get to the kitchen and half way into a routine exercise, you’re toast and must run to the couch to lie down again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

My poor children wonder why I lie around all day in my pajamas and won’t get up to get them strawberry milk. They’re devastated. I am mean and lazy. OK, not really, but it sucks. And they kiss my hand. I try to nap. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Neutropenia. In our house, another new day of normal.

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My First Day As A “Real” Cancer Patient

1st Chemo yesterday was as good as it can be. We got there to start lab work, meet doc, start chemo at 1030am. We got in the car to go home at 6pm. LOOOOOONG ASS day!!!! The taxitol was rocky. I started feeling funky, got immediate acid reflux, followed by wave of heat induced nausea and other funk. They immediately stopped the drip, added saline, and a new histamine blocker, then sat for a while before restarting. When we restarted an hour or so later we went really really slowly. Got off and on symptoms. First I felt 1 or 2 days post flu- funky and weak but not violently ill. Then got wave of nausea that I took care of. Then later I got shaking chills with that fever onset like last week. It stayed pretty low but I was concerned. Popped more pills for the fever onset, steroids, this and that… It’s like walking a tightrope while playing whack-a-mole. They say in general I shouldn’t feel the more violent effects until today and tomorrow. Fun!

Hannah and Holland are managing as well as 3 and 4 can be expected. Hannah is on hair watch. I walked in from chemo and Hannah said “mommy! You still have hair!” Then this morning she came in my room, kissed my hand, then said “You still have hair. I just felt it.” Then she came back and asked me very sweetly if I could get up and help her. She told me “…hold my hand. If you feel weak you can squeeze my hand and I’ll be your prince.” I’m so blessed with my little people. They are a challenge and a blessing and the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

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