Tell It Like It Is… Telling My Kids I Had Cancer


The day I was diagnosed is a day I will never forget. Countless things were running through my mind and on the list was how was I going to tell my family -- especially my children. When I first became a mom, I knew I had to learn how to get through the diaper rashes, the terrible twos, potty training and the teenage years. Never did I think I would have to learn how to tell my kids I had cancer.

I came home after my appointment to my father watching my then 4 year old son. I revealed to my dad that I had cancer and he started to cry. I asked him to please stop, that this was my cancer and I was not ready to cry so he needed to stop. He mumbled that he needed to meet someone (which I knew was a lie), but I was relieved he was leaving. I was too scared I was going to break down. When he left, I’m sure he cried in his car after hearing his baby daughter had cancer. Throughout my process, he was the strongest I had ever seen him. When I needed him, he was strong.

The day went on like I was living it but not there. Telling your child you have cancer is the scariest thing to do because there is no definite that you are going to be ok. You instantly rip their childhood away, you strip them of innocence and enter them into a world of fear. How would I find the words and what should I say? Having four children, you learn that each one handles things differently, so I knew I needed to be generic in my words yet at the same time my reactions needed to be individualized so each child knew I was always going to be there for them. I knew my then 14 year old was going to handle it very differently than my 4 year old. Going into the conversation I felt like a liar because I told them it was nothing when I went into the lumpectomy. I wanted to tell them the news in a way that they understood I was telling them what the doctors told us. 

I was not going to wait to tell the kids. I wanted to be up front and just let it out. That night after dinner we sat all four down and told them. There were tears, anger, fear and some naughty words said -- “stupid dumb breast cancer” from the 4 year old -- but we talked. The tears came from the child who was 6 and unsure what cancer meant. The anger from the 13 year old who yelled that we told him I was ok. Why us? Was I going to die and how can he ever eat this meal again without thinking of this moment? The fear from the 11 year old worries what will happen to his mommy. Can he get breast cancer cause he breastfeed? We answered the questions and explained that we do not have all the answers because this is all new to us, but as we know they will know. That we will not lie, you can not get breast cancer from breast feeding and that we were scared too. 

Saying you have cancer out loud made it more real every time I told someone it felt like a punch in the gut. Keeping it simple and understanding that it is ok to be scared and angry even when you tell people makes it easier. Embraced the fact that like my emotions changed, others reactions will too. They could not understand what I was going through yet they were hurt and scared in their own way. But with my diagnosis came an entire new world-- the cancer world. I looked to them for support, education and advice. They gave me tips on how to tell my work or the school. Together they explained how they told their family. I gathered all the info they had and took a little of everyone’s to find mine. The best way to do handle this is your way. There is no right or wrong way to tell your family. Find your own way and don’t be pressured by how other have told their families-- this is your cancer no one else’s.  Not everyone has a shiny tiara to keep straight.