October is breast cancer awareness month. Last week, I wrote about becoming aware of your body. The more you know your body; the better you will be at determining when something irregular has tried to invade in. I listed different statistics on breast cancer (deaths, diagnosis, survival rates). I provided the link on how a person can learn to do monthly breast examinations. We learned that breast cancer is not only an issue for women. Men can be diagnosed as well.
With all that being said, most people wonder about the effects of cancer of the person that is diagnosed. My mom doesn’t remember exactly what month she was diagnosed. It was either October or November 2005. This week, I’m not focusing on her. Instead, I wanted to take a different twist. I wanted to write from the view of breast cancer from the perspective of the child and how it affects them.
My parents have eight children. Even as of this day, this is something that we have never sat and collectively spoken about our feelings on how we felt when our mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I enjoyed calling them, interviewing them, and hearing their views about our mom as she went through her healing process. I asked all of my siblings the same questions. Although, all had the same questions, every answer was different. I wasn’t surprised because we all have different personalities. Here are the questions that each was asked and answered. 1. Do you remember our parents telling us that mom had cancer? 2. How did you feel when you received the news? 3. Were you worried that she would not survive? 4. When you heard she was not having reconstructive surgery after her mastectomy, how did that make you feel? 5. Is there any advice you would like to give to a child that might be going through the same thing with his/her parent?
I’ll go in the order that we were born. The oldest of the eight is Juan. He was at home in Florida. He said that he heard other stories of people having breast cancer, but he never thought it would hit his home. Immediately, his first thought was death. He was worried if our mother would survive and pull through. He knew of women that had survived, and those that did not. Juan was scared for her. She is the matriarch, the glue of the family, and he did not want to think about her not being around. He was upset with life and questioned God. He said that is wasn’t fair. He said his mom is the nicest person on Earth. She would give someone that last. Why her? Why did she have to receive cancer? As time went on, he began to feel better. He cried, prayed, and leaned on his wife for support. He would talk to mom, and she would encourage him. I laughed and smiled when he told me this. Juan is such a momma’s boy. I could imagine him calling her crying and being worried. Here she is dealing with breast cancer and all the things that come along with it, but she never stopped being a mother. She took the time to comfort her son when he was concerned about her. As far as the reconstructive surgery, he worried if she would feel whole and still feel pretty since she did not do the surgery. He was concerned, but he never was brave enough to ask her about it. Lastly, he said it is very tough, but it important not to treat the person as a victim. Love and support your loved ones.
I am the second born child. I remember the moment that my parents called me. At the time, I was still married. I was in my bedroom, and I began to cry on the phone. My ex husband asked what was wrong because I couldn’t stop crying even after I hung up the call. I told him that my parents had just informed me that my mom had breast cancer. She was going to have surgery in a few weeks to remove the breast with the cancer. I was afraid that my mom would die. I was worried that I might develop breast cancer. I went and had the genetic testing done. My test came back negative. I was not a carrier of the trait. I remember the day my mom had surgery. All of my brothers lived out of state. Jenci, Shayla, my dad, and myself were at the hospital. I remember waiting for hours until the surgery was over. I remember looking out of the window crying and my mind wreaking havoc. It seemed like it was the longest day of my life. I remember her having a drainage bag on the spot where the breast was and having to empty it every few hours. I remember her being in pain for long periods of time. I was thankful that she did not have to go through chemo or radiation, but her having her breast and lymph nodes removed was still painful to see her go through. As Juan, I never asked her why she chose not to have reconstructive surgery. I was just thinking if it were me that I would want me a new pair of breast. In her mind, she might not have wanted to go through another surgery. As a family, we did not come together and speak about it at one time. I would recommend children to speak to the parent that is diagnosed to see how he/she feels. I think it is important to understand any concerns that might need to be address.
Jason said that mom might not know when she was diagnosed, but he knows exactly when we were told. He said it was December 2005, and he was about to go on stage for his church’s Christmas program. He had to take a moment to prepare himself before going on stage to perform. Jason said he was quite shocked when receiving the news. He said that it wasn’t something that he had time to prepare for. There was no previous conversation that lead to that day such as your mom thinks she might have breast cancer. She is going to get some test done to see what is going on. On this day, it was BAM and in his face. Instead, it was your mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she has to have surgery. Jason said he started his day with expectations of going about it being a normal day, but his day took a turn for the worse. He did feel that mom should have had the reconstructive surgery. He feels that it could have been rectified with surgery, but he said at the end of the day it was her choice. He would always support her decision whether he agreed with it or not. Jason’s advice is to have serious talks with your children and spouse about your family’s health history. A person should not wait until bad news is received to discuss these things. That way, no one is blindsided when health scares comes along, and a person can take preventive measures to help himself/herself. Lastly, whatever choice a person decides for their health is their choice, and the person has to deal with the deal he/she has made.
If you know Maury, he is the most nonchalant of the eight children. Vaguely, he remembered the moment. He said said he was not concerned nor did he have a fear of her dying. He never felt that her life was in danger. In his mind, she was going to be alright. He did not care about her not having reconstructive surgery after the mastectomy. He was glad she was alive. His suggestion is to enjoy the moments with the love one, do not add any extra stress to the person, support the person, and strengthen them.
For Josh, it was a feeling of helplessness. He was living in Florida. He wanted to be home in Mississippi to be with mom. He wanted to know what he could do to fix it or to help her. When we were younger, our mother had a miscarriage. She lost a lot of blood and had to resuscitated. When Josh received the dreaded call, it was a traumatic moment for him. His mind went back to that day of her having the miscarriage. He wondered would cancer be the thing that takes her out. He prayed and told God that cancer is like a common cold to Him. He prayed and asked God to please heal his mom. As far as the reconstructive surgery, he was worried about her mental health. Would she look in the mirror and still think she was beautiful? He told her to do what is best for her. If removing the breast will help her have longevity, he told her to remove it and proudly wear her prosthesis. His advice is that it is ok to feel every emotion. It doesn’t matter if it’s anger, sadness, frustration, or even despair. He would suggest seeking out professional help and talk to someone about how you feel about a parent having cancer.
Shayla was in college when she received the call. She was heartbroken, scared, concerned, and worried. Mom was the first person that she knew that had breast cancer. Mom is Superwoman in her eyes. How could Superwoman become sick? She was worried about her passing away because of the things she’s read about breast cancer. She was worried about what her outcome might be. She didn’t want people to look at mom differently for having one breast because she did not have the reconstructive surgery. Shayla’s suggestion to any child is to make sure you do not take it for granted. Self awareness is important. Breast cancer is real. Learn all the information you can and do all the things you need to do.
Jenci’s recollection was that we did not have a long tedious time to prepare ourselves. When we were told, mom was already diagnosed and knew what was going on. She was in college. Her initial reaction was concern for mom’s wellbeing. Even though she was in college, she did not personally know much about breast cancer. She did not want to see her go through what society had portrayed on television. With mom being a woman of faith, she had a community of people praying and believing for a healing. Jenci said that witnessing mom’s faith being strengthened helped strengthen her faith. She didn’t care about her not having reconstructive surgery. She knew momma had to have the breast remove in order to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back. She wanted to make sure that mom self-esteem was ok. Her advice is to support both parents. Let them know you are their. Their journey is individual, but they need to know they are not alone. Lastly, ask questions. Be aware of your family history, and love can conquer anything.
With all the interviews, I, personally, feel that Zierra’s recollection was the most traumatic. When I asked Zierra the question about how she remembered being told, she stated that she was never actually told. She did not know of momma having breast cancer. She did not know momma had a mastectomy. She discovered momma had a mastectomy when she stumbled upon momma undressing in the bathroom one morning. The 10 year old child began to cry and wonder what happened. After mom was able to get Zierra to calm down, momma explained to her what happened. She informed her she had breast cancer. The only way to save herself and to continue to live was by removing the infected area. Zierra said she feared the worst. She said momma withheld the information of her having breast cancer. In her mind, she wondered what other information she might be keeping from here. She felt on edge, but mom reassured her that she would be ok. Her advice is to prepare for the worst but pray for the best. We can not control the situations. God is in control. Everything happens for a reason. We should go with the flow of life. Accept the things that we can change. Do not allow temporary emotions affect the time of your life ahead.
To sum it up, my suggestion is to talk to your children. It does not matter how hold your children might be. Let them know what is going on. As you read, we were all different ages with different things going on in our lives. Yet, each child was affected differently. Do not wait until the last minute to discuss the treatment plan. You might think your child can not handle it. It is better to know something than being dropped with a bombshell. Do not wait to discuss your family’s history with certain illnesses. As said I said last week and will say it again, the more you know about your body and health; the better you will be. Lastly, my suggestion is to continue to love one another and be a support throughout the entire process. Be blessed and in good health.