“Is Mommy Going to Die?”

My oldest daughter was 5 1/2 years old when I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2011. My youngest daughter was only 2 1/2. One of the most difficult things was figuring out how to talk to my kids about my illness and not scare them to death – because I was scared to death myself. Luckily, my youngest wasn’t able to understand much more than, “mommy has boo-boos and doesn’t feel good”, but my oldest understood something was seriously wrong. My partner talked to her alone one day and explained that I had cancer and needed treatment and some operations. She teared up and asked, “Is mommy going to die?” What a terrible thing for someone so young to have to ask. Having cancer is traumatic enough, having to comfort and reassure your kids in the middle of it all makes it even harder. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do it alone. I asked my Oncologist for help on how to talk to my kids and she gave me great suggestions. She also reassured me that, years from now, my illness would be a distant memory for my girls and not something that would have a lasting, negative impact on them. My partner and I also got help from Gilda’s Club, a free cancer support community that has groups for patients, caregivers, and children. My oldest daughter started attending “Noogieland”, a support group for kids who have a family member with cancer. They provided support, education, therapeutic activities and an opportunity for her to be with other kids like herself, going through similar experiences. The counselors there gave me suggestions on how to explain things to her and how to help her express her feelings. We made it through, but there were some difficult times. It broke my heart when I couldn’t pick my kids up anymore or dance and play with them like I used to because of the chemo and surgeries. They missed that terribly, and so did I. We made adjustments though, and I cuddled with them as much as I could and tried to do things with them when I was having my good days. Losing my hair from the chemo was also a shock to them. My oldest started crying when she first saw me bald. But, kids are resilient, and they quickly adjusted to my new look and had fun helping me try on different hats and scarves. Now that I’m healthy again, I can dance and play with them like I used to. I can even pick up my youngest daughter still, but my oldest is a little too big for me now. My kids were a great support and motivator to get better and, even though I hate that they had to go through it, I thank God that they were a part of my journey.

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