Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Telling My Child I have Cancer

Of the five kids here, Angela is really the only one who has the language to understand about Cancer and what is ahead. Axel will understand that mom is "sick", as will Asher and Abel. Audrey is not even close to being able to comprehend at this point. I decided Axel will do best having things explained to him as they happen. But Angela…Angela knows something is up. The hushed whispers, the tears, the anxiety hanging in the air. I don't think its possible to hide cancer from my kids.

I didn't really know how to do this. I didn't plan a certain script. Angela is 17 but developmentally around 7-8 years old. Its hard to predict what she will understand about this so I figured simple facts and she'll ask questions as we go through this journey.

Today Angela and I went for a drive. A couple minutes down the road I turned down the radio.

"Hey!" she said, annoyed that I was messing with her tunes.

"Honey, I want to talk to you about something really important. Can you talk with me for a minute?"

Her eyes got big and wide. She folded her hands in her lap and turned to look at me. "Ok, lay it on me mom!" she said.

"Angela, do you know what Cancer is?"


"Have you heard of the word Cancer before?"


"Do you know what Cancer means?"

"You die." she said, blinking big. Then, counting on her fingers, "Grandma Spring having cancer and she died. Rubee having cancer and she died. Shep having cancer and he died."

I took a deep breath, swallowing hard to control the tears that were already threatening. "You're right. Sometimes people and animals who have cancer die. There are lots of different kinds of cancer. Inside our bodies are tiny little pieces called cells. They're like puzzle pieces."

"I have Down syndrome. I have an extra puzzle piece."

"Yes, that's right. Cancer is a different kind of puzzle piece. Inside of us are our organs, like our heart and lungs…"

"and my esophagus."

"Yes, and your esophagus. All those parts are made of cells. But sometimes those cells don't grow right. They get all confused and they start to grow wrong. Cancer means having mixed up cells in your body. We found out that Mommy has cancer."

"You will die?" she asked me, her eyes like giant brown saucers.

Oh dear God….this is so hard.

"No honey. Grandma had a kind of cancer that the doctors didn't have medicine for so she died. But I have cancer in my breast. Next week I'm going to have surgery and the doctor will take the cancer out."

"You get an IV?!" she asked excitedly, because she loves all things related to the hospital.

"Yes, I'm going to have an IV. The doctor will take my cancer out, and then I will come home. When I'm all better from surgery I'm going to have special X-rays every day for a long time. Those X-rays will find any sneaky cancer cells that might be hiding in my body. The doctor says I'm going to be just fine."

"Ok. You not dying?" she asked?

"Nope. Not dying. Just surgery."

"Ok. Great Mom! Can you turn the radio back on?"

Nobody should need to have this talk with their kid.

Stupid cancer.


Ian & Ruby said...

Leah, as a breast cancer survivor for 14 years, I hear your pain, but I also know that you are brave, courageous, and strong, and that the prayers of many people will be with you in this fight against cancer. I pray that the surgery and radiation will prove successful in defeating those cancer cells and your family will be safe.

Heather said...

Leah, I have never met you or your family in real life, but I love following your blog! I'm praying for you and your family as you go through this bump in the road. I'm glad Angela is able to understand and be so positive -- you are so blessed to have such wonderful kids! I'm praying for you all as you embark on this battle.

Relle said...

Leah, i had been wondering about the kids. What they understand and how to explain it. You did an awesome job, on what is no doubt was the hardest conversation you have ever had to have. You are amazing that you could keep it together and talk to Angela and answer her questions, without bawling your eyes out. Praying for you and the kids as you go though the surgery and for Dean too. Hugs

Imogen said...

You are truly amazing. Seriously so!

Tamara said...

Nice job. I think you picked the perfect place too. There's something about talking to kids in the car, isn't there? What's with that. We'll just keep praying here.

Becca said...

Ahhhh, you did this so well... Again, thank you for sharing. I can't even imagine how hard it had to be. I'm glad it went well.

Anonymous said...

Hey Leah,
This is Debbie, Butch's wife. I just wanted to say how much I have admired you and Dean since I first noticed your blog on Butch's facebook! And now to read how you are handling your cancer diagnosis it's absolutely amazing!! You quote about wanting the devil to say, "oh shit! She's up!" I think that is what you have cancer saying!! I will keep you all in my thoughts and my prayers!!
Debbie Swenson

Betsy said...

Hi Leah -- saying prayers for you and that your "guardian angels" are surrounding you and help you through this "road" in your life! You are amazing and I so thankful, you found it early! Appreciate your prayers for my 54 year old sister, Patti, who flat-lined yesterday, they were able to bring her back, but she is not waking up -- she has diabetes. Lots of hugs to you and your family!