I don’t think I ever had a set date or location for where and when I’d tell the kids about my upcoming surgery, but I guess I didn’t think I’d tell them with still 10 weeks to go. Perhaps a little closer to the date so they didn’t have to think about it for so long, but I didn’t get to choose it, it chose me. Last night, my eight year old heard me mention to my husband that I’d be in the hospital for two nights.
“Mommy, why are you going to be in the hospital?”
Then and there I was on the spot, and quite frankly, a little relieved. We were finally going to have the talk and I didn’t have to keep sheltering them from the inevitable. The TV turned off, the kids gathered around and I began to tell them a story of sorts.
“As you know, there’s all different types of cancers people can get,” I began.
I told them about brain, skin and lung cancers as examples, and then told them that women, and some men, can get cancer in their boobs too. The look on their faces was priceless, to me, as I realized my six, eight and ten year olds and I don’t often discuss boobs in our house in everyday conversations. We then discussed how some cancers are very mean and others have good results with treatment.
“Well, mommy’s mommy had cancer and the doctors couldn’t save her no matter what they tried,” I continued.
“Mommy, can you catch cancer?” my six-year old asked with her hand raised high.
“Nope, you can’t catch it,” I replied with a bit of a smirk, realizing how over her head this all might be.
“The doctors couldn’t save my mommy, but luckily, as I was getting older, doctors were working on a very important test. The test could tell them if I was likely to get cancer or not.” My kids’ faces all lit up. They were intrigued by this test and amazed it could tell doctors whether or not I’d get cancer. “The test looks at your genes, and mommy happens to have genes that don’t work right. That means my body won’t fight cancer very well if I get it.”
I can’t clearly remember who asked it or the exact words, but one of my children asked flat out if I have cancer and if I’m going to die. Ugh, gut wrenching. I could see the faces changing as I told different parts of the story to my kids. Eyes light up, then tears well up, then confusion and so on. It was like a roller coaster of feelings happening as they were all trying to make sense of it. “That’s where all of this is very exciting. Because I took the test, the doctors can now try to save me before I get cancer. You know how people can get hips and knees replaced and even get legs and arms made for ones that don’t work or they don’t have? Doctors can do that with boobs too. Mommy is getting new boobs.”
|Property of Heather Barnard|
“You mean you’re going to have metal boobs like the people with metal legs?” my ten-year old son unsuringly laughed. Everyone kind of giggled then, and it was a much-needed break in what was a serious moment.
“No, they won’t be metal. They’ll look the same on the outside, but they are going to take away all my yucky inside parts that could make me sick, and give me new insides that won’t make me sick.”
My husband then chimed in with, “mommy has been wanting this surgery for a long, long time, and now she finally gets to do it.”
“You’ve been WANTING the surgery?” my son asked.
“Mommy lost her mommy when she was only three years older than you, 13. I don’t want you guys to lose your mommy like I lost mine.” Those were the hardest words to say of the entire conversation.
I then explained why were going to Texas, why grandma was coming to stay with us for a week and why I’d be in the hospital for two days. We talked about what they’d see at the hospital when I came out of surgery, how mommy might talk funny due to the medications, how they couldn’t come jump on my bed and give me bear hugs for some time and what the drains might look like. My youngest then gave a demonstration of how they could hug me ever so gently.
“We want you to come to the hospital to see that mommy is ok after the surgery,” I continued. All three resoundingly agreed that they wanted to be there after and see me, see that everything is ok.
I feel I was so far removed some portions of my own mother’s process that I never got to ask questions I had. I even wrote a children’s book all about what kids want to ask but don’t out of simply not understanding or being scared, because of what I went through as a child. I’m glad we had the talk when we did and I’m glad they’ll be there with me through it all. Now we can all just look forward to the day we can celebrate mom’s recovery.