Parenting and Breast Cancer
Updated: Apr 19
By Denise Rodman
Breast Cancer has always been a part of my life. My mother passed away of breast cancer at the age of 36. She left us just before my 2nd birthday. Losing her at such a young age encouraged me to want to grow up and be the best mom I could be. I looked forward to having children and doing all the things I had longed to do with my own mother. Coincidentally, I became pregnant for the first time at the same age my mother was pregnant with me. I had never felt so close to her even though I have no memory of her. Everything seemed to be going as planned: marriage, a child, a home and even a promotion at work.
Fast forward to my 40th birthday–I had always felt some relief that every birthday celebrated was another year further from the eternal age of my mother. One night, I was sitting next to my husband on the couch watching TV. My arm had rubbed against my right breast and something felt odd. I immediately started to feel the area with my hand…there it was…a lump. I immediately asked my husband to feel it. As he pulled his hand away, he immediately said “that needs to get checked out!” The following few days were a whirlwind. First a visit to my OBGYN, who directly sent me for a mammogram and sonogram that same afternoon. Next was a core needle biopsy and a referral to a breast surgeon. Ten days after finding my lump, I was given the news that I had breast cancer. A week later, I found out it was TNBC.
I immediately thought of my son. Will he lose me… as I had lost my own mother? What was I going to do? He had just turned 5 years old. I felt like I was on a freight train barreling down the track out of control. So many decisions to make and emotions to process. My older sister had shared with me that when my mother was dying, she asked if my mother would live. All the adults told her everything would be okay. After my mother died everything was not okay and my sister would never be the same, rarely trusting others. My son is quite sharp and sensitive, and he knew something was different. The phone rang more, and I would leave the room to talk privately. I would need to tell him what was going on and the changes that would be happening. I would first have a bilateral mastectomy with an axillary node dissection, followed by chemotherapy, radiation and reconstruction surgery.
My son and I love to read together. I have read to him almost every night of his life and now he has begun to read to me. It is part of our nightly bedtime routine. I was never read to as a child, but I saw it happen in movies and on TV. I had dreamt of lying in bed with my son or daughter cuddled under the blanket and reading together. I researched breast cancer children’s books online and decided that is how I would tell him I had cancer. I put the pink book on the couch, and he quickly asked if we could read it together. We cuddled close and began to read. Tears began to run down my cheek. We finished the book and now he knew. I told him if he has any questions or worries to come talk to me and we would figure it out together.
I know that telling children about cancer is a very personal choice. Some might feel that it could overwhelm them and fill them with fear. There might be the option to hide it or limit what children are told. For me, I wanted to be very honest with my son. I had lost both of my parents before my 25th birthday. I had learned that death was a part of life. I wanted my son to know that I was willing to do anything I could possibly do to overcome cancer and enjoy as much time as God gave me on this beautiful planet with him. For every step, I would find a book to read about topics such as mastectomy surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. We would read about it together, learn together and help each other through this.
When it came time to shave my head, I even had him help. He was giggling as my hair dropped to the floor and it lightened the mood. Once shaved, he would rub his small hand over the stubble and comment on how soft it felt. He would do the same when my hair began to grow back in after chemo. This method of telling my son about my cancer might not be the standard or even the suggested. What I tell others going through cancer is you need to do what you feel is right. Trust your gut. You know your child or children better than anyone else. If they cry console them. If they get angry, tell them you are angry too. And most importantly love them and love yourself. My little family unit consisting of myself, my son and my husband fought cancer together.
I leave you with a few takeaways from my cancer diagnosis and parenting:
Make sure you are taking time for yourself. Like on an airplane you need to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping someone else.
Be gentle with yourself. There is no right or wrong way to navigate this.
Find joy in the small things. In our fast-paced world it is so easy to miss them.
Look at your blessings and teach your children to do the same.
Love, love your children, love yourself, love others.