Since “coming out” with my Metastatic Breast Cancer diagnosis, the most asked question I get from others is:
“How did you tell you kids about your cancer coming back?”
Before I answer the question I need to say this. I’m telling the story from my point of view, as their mother, sharing how I told them. I can’t and will not making assumptions about how they interpreted the situation, or what they think because I don’t know what they think and how they internalized what happened that day. I can only speak from my experience and what went down from my point-of-view.
I’d been toying with the idea for months about “coming out” publicly about my diagnosis but the timing just never felt right. I decided that my husband and I would tell the kids first before we told anyone else because a) they deserve to know first and b) I didn’t want them to overhear something without having the right information from me, the source.
I did numerous Google searches about how to tell your kids about your cancer coming back but lots of information is lacking and a lot of what is out there didn’t resonate with me nor feel “right”.
My therapist and I had talked at length about “the perfect time” to tell them. I kind of became obsessed with finding “the perfect time” to relay this very important information. I didn’t want it to be before bed, or in the morning because what if they had questions? I didn’t want it to be before a birthday party, or playdate or extra-curricular activity because I felt that what if they had questions? I wanted it to be a quiet moment when my husband and I could tell them the news. I wanted them to feel loved, safe and secure when I chose to share the news. So I kept wanting to find that perfect moment. Which is SOOO incredibly hard and way more complicated than I expected it to be.
But then, on a Saturday evening before dinner, we had that moment. I kept asking my husband “should we tell them now?” I felt so sick about it. I was about to tell my little babies life changing news. Whether they understood the gravity of the news or not there would be no going back. And that broke my heart.
So we gathered them around in a bedroom where it was quiet with no distractions. They were being silly as they had no idea what was about to happen. I told them that my cancer had returned and wouldn’t be going away. At that moment I literally broke for them. Not for me. I broke their hearts. And then I cried while telling them. The one thing I didn’t want to do was cry. I wanted to show them I was strong. But then the tears started. I talked to them through my tears. I told them that the doctors put me on medicine that is keeping the cancer from growing. I answered questions about how they knew the cancer was back and how they found it spread. I explained to them where the cancer is. I told them that my cancer is different from Terry Fox’s (they learned about him in school) but was impressed that they were making connections about what they were learning in school to real life. I reassured them at this moment I wasn’t dying by saying “I hope not” after being asked if I will die. I told them that I would be sharing the news with our friends and family so they didn’t have the carry the weight of my news on their tiny shoulders. I reassured them that if anything would change that I would let them know. I told them at any time they could ask questions and that at this time their life wouldn’t be changing.
I hugged them and kissed them and then we went on with our evening.
But I was paralyzed. I lay in bed the rest of the night. I just told my 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son news that no mother ever wants to tell their kids. All I saw was broken hearts when I looked at them that night. I was shattered. And the devastating thing is knowing the statistics of Metastatic Breast Cancer and that there is no cure, this will not be the first or second time that I have to deliver news to my kids that I wish I never had to.
If you are reading this and have recently been diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer, I hope this post helps you find comfort in sharing the news with your kids. It’s the hardest thing to do but surrounding them in love and reassurance worked well for us.