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How I talk to my kids about cancer

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Breast_Cancer_Mom_of_three.JPGBy Brandie Sellers

Brandie Sellers teaches yoga, meditation, nutrition and cooking. She paints, writes, runs and plays with her children. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor and a divorcee.

Brandie is crazy about her three children, and is blessed with a slew of sister friends who pick her up when she's down, keep her honest with herself when she's full of it, and make her laugh till she cries. Follow her at http://simplifyyoga.com/.


My children were 4, 7 and 9 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I fretted over what to say and how to say it. Do I tell them with my ex-husband present? Do I tell them separately? How much do I tell them?

In addition to having many questions and fears myself, I wondered how I would help them manage their emotions.

Ultimately, I told them with my ex-husband, within days of being diagnosed.

All of us sat together on the couch and I told them the simplest way I could: I said that my lumps that had been causing problems were breast cancer.

My daughter (the eldest) literally shot away from me on the couch, placing her back to me. My middle child, a son, burst into tears. Then his little brother followed suit, not knowing what cancer even was, but knowing that it must be horrible news because of how his siblings were responding.

We hugged and I cried with them.

To tell or not to tell

I told them that I would have to have medicine to help me that would make my hair fall out, and some surgery. I promised that I would not lie to them and that they could always ask me any questions they want.

That was 1 1/2 years ago. Since then, I've had 18 weeks of chemo, a double-mastectomy, radiation, a recurrence and surgery during radiation, more radiation and reconstruction.

About 10 months into my cancer journey I became a patient at MD Anderson, seeking a second opinion and recommendations for moving forward.

Traveling to Houston from North Texas is another disruption for my family each time I go but it's worth it for me to feel like I'm at the place where the buck stops, so to speak. And when I get back, I give the kids a little run-down.

I did not tell my children what stage my cancer was, nor do they even know what the word "prognosis" means. They do not know the statistics associated with stage IIIC breast cancer or with a local recurrence within a year of diagnosis.

I don't think that information would be helpful because they don't know how to process it. I'm not sure how to process it myself.

Ongoing communication
Our discussions about cancer are ongoing. It comes up at seemingly random moments. A question will be asked and answered in the most honest, helpful way I can muster.

The youngest: "Mommy, they cut off your boobies because you had cancer, right?" "Yes, baby."

The oldest: "Mommy, sometimes I think God doesn't love me because my parents got divorced and then you got cancer." Me: "Honey, God loves you through all the people in our lives who have helped us through this really hard time."

About six weeks after my reconstruction my older son put his head on my bosom when I was tucking him in and said, "It's been a while since you held me like this, Mommy," and burst into tears.

It hadn't occurred to me that cancer took something away from my children in the form of their mother's bosom, where they all nursed and slept and have sought comfort their whole lives.

His expression of grief over the loss and relief to have it back was therapeutic for both of us.

All of those questions and expressions tear at my gut but I'm so grateful that they keep coming. Because I've seen that if they let them out while they are happening and if I validate them, then my kids are growing emotionally and spiritually from this experience and I can't ask for more than that.

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