Saturday, May 28, 2011

Telling the Kids

One of the hardest parts of the last month or so has been keeping my diagnosis from my kids. I knew I'd have to tell them at some point, but I didn't know when or how I would do it. There were some people who would tell me not to give them details. "Just say you need surgery. You don't need to tell them why." But as someone who's always been as honest as possible with my kids, that didn't work for me. I decided to go with the other suggested route.

Be honest.

I knew I wanted to tell them when they'd be at my house for a few days and not immediately going to their dad's, or school the next day. I didn't want to fight homework time, music lessons or the bedtime routine. I wanted to do it on a calm day when we really had nothing else to do.

That day was today.

I waited for Jimmi to get home from the gym because I thought it was important for him to be here for the boys as well. And, as an extra bonus, the kids' first babysitter ever - who is basically a family member now - was at the house too.

"Come sit down, boys, I want to talk to you." Dylan, my 10 year-old, and Justin, my 8 year-old plopped themselves down at the kitchen table. They sat there quietly, which is totally out of character for them, and waited for me to speak.

I took a breath, "So, I went to the doctor about a month ago..." Their faces immediately fell. Ok, I thought to myself, keep it together. Get it out. "He told me that I'm sick and I need to have an operation to make me better. But after the operation, I'm gonna need some medicine to make sure I stay better. That medicine is going to make my hair fall out."

Dylan's eyes got wide as he blurted out, "You have cancer?!"

Wow. How did he know that?

"Yes, I do."

Dylan stared speechlessly as Justin's face scrunched up and the tears started falling like rain. As the high-pitched wail escaped from his throat, he placed his face down on the table and just cried. I stayed strong, as did the other adults in the room.

"Are you gonna be ok?" Dylan forced out.

Jimmi stepped in, "The doctors caught it early, so Mom's gonna be fine. She's not gonna die, if that's what you're thinking."

Ok, I didn't really want to say that I'm not gonna die, because, in all honesty, I don't know what's gonna happen. I hope everything will be ok, and I hope it'll be gone and I'll be fine. But I don't know for sure.

I explained that I'd be having surgery in two weeks and that I wasn't going to be able to do much this summer. I apologized for that, but told them how lucky they are because their dad and Jimmi are both around all summer to do fun things with them.

"Where's the cancer?" Dylan questioned.

"Well," I searched my brain for an age-appropriate description. "It's in the part that held you inside of me before you were born. They'll take it out and I'll be ok."

"Will it grow back?"

"No, Dylan. That part doesn't grow back." I explained.

Justin finally lifted his head, crawled onto my lap and spoke, "So you can't have more babies?!"

Ugh. I'm really getting into more details than I thought I would. But I made a decision to be honest, so here it goes...

"No, I won't be able to have babies. But, here's the interesting part. Remember the night of Dylan's school concert when I wasn't feeling well?" They nodded. "The reason I wasn't feeling well is because I went to the doctor that day and he took all of my baby eggs out."

Justin looked surprised. "You have eggs that make babies?"

"Yes," I continued. "So the doctor took them out and put them in a special freezer. If Jimmi and I want to have a baby, they can take my eggs and put them into a super-nice lady who will offer to carry a baby for me until it's ready to be born."

"And then she'll give it back?" Dylan innocently asked.

"Yes, she will."

"But it'll be your baby?"

"Yes it will. Our bun, her oven." I joked. They didn't get it.

I got through the baby part of the discussion unscathed. I then switched back to the more important topic of cancer and what to expect. I told them I would need their help, and Dylan said so sincerely, "We'll be good." My heart broke in two. "I know you'll be good. I just need you to understand that I won't be able to do much fun stuff this summer like going to the beach or the boardwalk. It's going to be a bit rough."

I went over the fact that after treatments, I might feel pretty sick. I told them they may be at their dad's a lot more than they normally would be.

"But can we see you?" Dylan choked out.

"You can see me whenever you want. You just might not be able to stay too long, and you might need to wear a mask to keep germs away from me."

I looked at Justin, who hadn't uttered more than a few syllables, and said, "Do you have any questions?"

He looked at me as his eyes pooled up and squeaked, "Will your hair grow back?" And before I could answer him, he wrapped his arms around my neck and sobbed on my shoulder. With my hands under his arms, I helped him back up to an upright position so I could look him in the eyes. "Yes, my hair will grow back. It's just gonna take a while. But I got some great wigs!"

"Will the wig look exactly like your hair?"

"Yes, it should."

"Will your hair grow back the same color?"

"Well, I've had my hair colored so many times, I'm not really sure what color it will be when it grows back!" I showed Justin my roots, which I decided not to have touched up last week because, really, what's the point? "See that darker color right there?" He looked. "That's my real hair color. I'm assuming that's the color it will be when it starts to come back."

"When will it be that long again?"

"Justin, it's gonna take years for it to be long." He started to whimper again. "What if I make sure I always have a wig or a scarf on if you're around. Will that make you feel better?" I watched the tears fall as he quietly nodded, then squeezed me again.

And I thought I was worried about my hair!!

They still looked scared.

"Remember I told you that I had cancer in my thyroid when I was 21? I'm 36 now, right? It went away. See?" And Justin said, "Yeah, you just take a pill every day, right?" "Yes," I said. "I'll probably need more pills after they do this operation just like the other one." Then Dylan threw me for a loop with, "Because you'll need the hormones, right?"

My jaw dropped and I looked at my 10 year-old.

"How do you know this stuff? You knew I had cancer just because I said my hair would fall out and you knew I'd need hormones because I would be taking a pill. Where are you getting this?"

He explained, "Whenever I see commercials for cancer stuff on TV, they're always bald. And I know that the parts down there give you hormones to go through puberty and stuff, so I just figured it out."


All I could get out was, "Well, luckily I went through puberty a long time ago!"

He smiled.

I closed the conversation by assuring my boys that they could come to me with any questions. I told them their dad knows what's going on and so do most of the grown-ups they know. They can talk to anyone they feel comfortable talking to, but be careful with their friends. I don't want their friends to give them bad information and scare them with stories like, "My grandma died of cancer!" I offered to let them speak to a counselor if they wanted to, and Dylan jumped at that one.

Hopefully I handled it correctly. As a mom, certain situations are completely unknown. The way you handle those moments with your kids can mean the difference between their emotional well-being or a complete mental breakdown. I did my best. I hope it was enough.


  1. I think you handled that with grace. Give the boys our love! -amy and danny

  2. Couldn't have handled it better! The boys are lucky to have a mom like you.