Parenting Little Ones With Breast Cancer
Let’s face it; parenting is hard, even for the most able-bodied of us. But when you throw little ones and breast cancer diagnosis into the mix, it can present its own set of unique challenges. Nevertheless, it is still entirely possible to have wonderful experiences with your little ones while living with breast cancer!
I was first diagnosed with stage II breast cancer when my children were six, four and six months old. Without family around to help, and a husband who worked a lot, having aggressive cancer treatment was difficult. What was I supposed to do?
Learning to ask for help
Once I stopped trying to be Super Mom, I realized a lot of people wanted to help and just did not know how to. Local friends brought over dinner babysat, and accompanied me to chemotherapy. Far-away friends and family helped, too. They sent packages for my children, with art supplies, play dough, DVDs and books, as well as ordered dinners for us on many occasions. While I did not want to eat after chemo, my family was still hungry! For more intensive help after my bilateral mastectomy, some family flew in to help for a week at a time.
Most of the time it was just me
Usually, I was on my own with my little ones. Selling Girl Scout cookies at the cookie booth, helping with homework, changing diapers, waking up at night with a teething baby, cooking dinner and buying groceries. I wanted to maintain a sense of normalcy for my children, amidst my bald head and bouts of post-chemo vomiting. It was important to me that their lives be disrupted by breast cancer as little as possible.
New normal for my family
Instead of resisting reality, I had to accept my limitations and find a new normal for my family. We could still spend time together, just in different ways that were easier on my exhausted body and hurting body. Aside from nausea and fatigue, sometimes my bone pain was so severe I could barely walk. After my mastectomy, I could not lift my arms, bend, or carry more than five pounds. For a family that is accustomed to being active and outdoorsy, suddenly being confined to the house most of the time was a shock for us all.
I learned to trade one thing for another
We cut down on hiking and spent more time doing crafts at home, and substituted our usual picnics for easy, at-home baking sessions. For outside fun, I bought a few second-hand outdoor toys and we spent more time in our yard instead of me chasing them around the local playground. We also started having regular movie nights, with cozy blanket forts and popcorn. I even traded my long auburn tresses for a pink wig, which my kids loved to take turns wearing! We always had a good time, and they walked away with wonderful childhood memories of us together, not just of me having breast cancer. That’s what really matters.
Approaching one year
Today, I am approaching one year living with metastatic breast cancer. My children are now nine, seven, and three. I have explained what metastatic breast cancer means, and why I go to the hospital on Mondays. They know about chemotherapy and its side effects. My daughter will query, ‘’That’s the medicine that keep you alive, right, Mama?’’. At dinner my son has asked, ‘’Is this pea the size of the cancer in your lung?’’. They don’t truly understand that it is incurable, but they do know that I need to take medicine forever.
Believe it or not, there are some benefits to being a stage IV metastatic breast cancer patient. Really. For instance, I look exactly as I did before cancer. My hair has grown back and is longer than when I was first diagnosed. I do not look sick, and, most of the time, I do not feel sick. Some days I am more tired than others, and my children help with things around the house; unloading the dishwasher, feeding the dog and cat. My treatment is a lot easier now at stage IV than it was at stage II. As the adage goes, ‘’It is a marathon, not a sprint’’. I am in this for the long haul, so my chemotherapy is less intense. Most of the time, none of us even think about me having breast cancer at all.
Parenting little ones with metastatic breast cancer present its own unique set of challenges, but you can still have wonderful experiences nevertheless!
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to share that on Friday, October 29, 2021, Danielle Thurston passed away. We know that Danielle’s voice and perspective continue to reach so many. She will be deeply missed.
Internal radiation therapy is the most common type of radiation used to treat breast cancer.