Tuesday 21 January, 2020

“What do you tell the kids?”

Lindsy, based in the US, a mother and breast cancer survivor.

“What do you tell the kids?” How do you go through cancer and having kids at the same time. This is a question many people are curious about, and here is my take. Early on it was a pretty easy decision for my husband and I that we would not hide anything that was happening to me.

Medical things and health issues can happen to everyone, and we didn’t want them to be scared of hospitals, scared of getting sick, or scared if someone they love gets sick. I’ve always been a firm believer that they need to know that these things happen, and when they do, we are here for them, people are there for us and we live in a place where we get excellent care.

Our confidence in our decisions

Everyone may not agree with this approach, but I will tell you that our confidence in our decisions in regards to when and what to share with our kids continues to grow to this day. I think it can be easy to not give them enough credit in their ability to understand what is happening around them. Kids know, and we didn’t want them to think we were hiding anything from them, and we didn’t want to give them any reason to fear what was going to happen. We wanted them to have a stable and comfortable environment, and wanted to make sure communication with them was strong so they’d always feel safe communicating how they were feeling with us.

Kingsley was 4 years old when this all began, and is 4 now. She is an empathetic, caring, loving, and sensitive little girl. We watched her compute what was going on, as it was happening every single day. I love hearing what she has to say, answering her questions and watching her process everything in her own way. I’m still answering questions about my treatment, cancer in general and everything I’m still going through. She’s incredibly smart and up until this day has remained positive and happy and isn’t fearful about what’s going on.

Hunter, was  2 ½ when this all began, and will be 4 very soon. He is the most loving, caring little boy – and provides all the innocent comic relief necessary to get through the heavy moments during this journey. So young, but seems to grasp many of the concepts, especially as time passes, and he has never seemed very phased by any of it. He loves to ask me questions, specifically on the physical things he can see like the port in my chest, my scars, my hair when it was changing, etc. They are always telling me how they love me, and my top priority is to make sure they know they’ll always be my top priority and that I’m proud of them, and love them.

We didn’t use the ‘C’ word

They knew from the start that I had something in my chest that needed to be fixed. We told them that my body made extra cells, and they had to be removed. We obviously down played the nitty gritty details of the  surgery, and told them what they needed to know – like that I would be in the hospital for a couple of days, and after I went home, I wouldn’t be able to do all the things I normally do for a little while.

That is where we left it. We didn’t use the ‘C’ word, mostly because I was worried they’d hear it somewhere else, in a scarier context. We decided we’d wait on the final details of my treatment before getting into any more details. My recovery from surgery was going to be just over a month, so we’d focus on their experience with that first.

Doing chemotherapy

Once it was confirmed that I’d be doing chemotherapy, at the end of my surgery recovery, we looked into how to approach the situation properly, since it could seem a little scarier for them. All the professionals and resources were telling us that we needed to continue to be honest with them, and be even more up front about exactly what was happening, including using the ‘C’ word.

We waited until my PICC line was inserted into my arm, because it was a great way to lead the discussion with a – look what I have – guess what it’s for – kind of scenario. We told them I was going to start getting special medicine, because even though they removed the cells in my operation, we had to make sure no cells were left anywhere in my bloodstream and body. Kingsley was learning about cells in school and she was eager to learn more and understand these types of things. We explained how the PICC line would give me medicine, and that the medicine was probably going to make me feel tired and sick sometimes, but that it was temporary and it’ll eventually help me when it was all over. Cancer and having kids, I don’t think anyone knows the right way to do it. 

We told them it was called Breast Cancer

We told them it was called Breast Cancer, and the cells are called cancer cells. That’s when we realized that we were the ones who were the most worried about it, because of course they don’t really know what it is yet, and didn’t seem affected at all. The next thing we told them about was that my hair was going to change, and eventually fall out. This is when we saw it take a little longer for Kingsley to compute, but Hunter was literally already pretty bored of the conversation and we no longer had his attention, ha! To make light of the situation I told  Kingsley that my hair is going to look like dad’s hair! Which, thankfully, my husband was a good sport about because his hair is very short and thinning, and it was a perfect way to help her visualize and understand it. Of course she burst into laughter and thought it was the best thing she ever heard.

Chemotherapy and radiation

And that was that. We continued to tell them about my treatments as I went through the motions of chemotherapy and radiation. We let them know when they had to be more careful around me, explained why I had so many doctor appointments and will answer any questions they have as they come up. We’re doing the best we can and so far we believe that our strategy has been the best one for our family. They’re both happy, secure and realize that although what is going on with me is a different experience than other families, it is an experience that many other families may have as well. We aren’t too different, and these kinds of challenges are just a part of life.
Follow and connect with me @lindsymatthews on the War On Cancer app where we can chat more about how it’s to go through cancer and having kids.

With my kids at the hospital
Lindsy, based in the US, a mother and breast cancer survivor.

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