Calling the Shots in Your Medical Care is about to launch in just a couple of months. And, with the excitement building, I feel a sense of purpose and urgency and certainty that this is the right time for the book to make its debut.
But I haven’t been so sure this is the right time to tell Arielle that mommy had breast cancer.
As many of you know, some time ago, my daughter accidentally found my prosthesis, as it flopped out of my bra. We had an age-appropriate talk, and I was hoping that would be that for a while.
Well a while has come and gone. She’s almost eight years old now, and the doctor-fixing-boo-boo language no longer flies.
A close friend tells me, “You’re going to have to tell her, you know, especially with your book coming out. Do you want her to find out by reading about it in your book? Don’t let her find out this way. It should be you who tells her.”
“Not yet,” I say. “She can’t read that well yet. And she’s not ready.” (Read: I’m not ready.)
“When will she be ready?”
“Maybe when she’s a teenager?”
Every once in awhile, I catch my daughter eyeing my scars and human-created nipples in a more sophisticated way than before. She gently traces the scars with her fingers. Because I don’t want Arielle to have body-image issues, I act like I’m just fine with my body and that my breasts are the most natural things in the world.
Except they are not.
Arielle is happy about the upcoming book launch. She is so thrilled the picture on the book’s back cover will be of both of us. She expects to attend the launch party, and at least one reading and book signing.
“I want to be there [at the launch party] for you, mommy,” says my sweet child, “just as you’re always here for me.”
At this time, I’m looking for a venue to host the book launch party. The prospect of the party makes Arielle especially happy. She can’t wait to be involved. And that’s the problem – she wants to be involved.
She’s more involved than she knows.
Kids are smart. They know there’s more to a story, even if you tell them only a portion of that story. On her own, Ari has figured out that something more significant, more serious had happened to her mom. We just don’t talk about it. And that’s been fine with me.
We are open about her adoption story.
We are not open about my cancer story.
Ari is a sensitive, caring child and, being adopted, she has already lost a biological mother. I don’t want to alarm her that she might lose me, too.
I know I have to spill the beans before the book launch. She will hear too much there. And it would break my heart to leave her home with a babysitter on such a significant day. I don’t know what to do.
One day when I’m not paying attention, Ari looks through the completed manuscript I accidentally left on my desk.
She accurately reads “Can-cer” out loud.
“Honey, do you know what cancer is?”
“It’s a disease that makes someone very sick. [Deep breath] Years ago, before you were born, I had breast cancer, and I was very sick. But my doctor gave me a medicine called chemotherapy to get rid of the cancer.”
“How did they give you chemo…therapy?”
“Through a needle. In this arm.”
“A doctor took my breasts off and used my belly fat to create new breasts. That is why I have such a big scar under my stomach. Baby, I’m OK now.”
“I’m not a baby, mom.”
A few days later, we are talking about why mommy wrote the book. Ari is pensive: “Like the time you had breast cancer, you needed help,” she says. ”And now your book will help other people.”
Wise beyond her years.
And now that the book launch is right around the corner, I feel better that Ari and I had this conversation. I am honest in my book, so I must be honest with my own daughter.
We must be open about her adoption story.
We must be open about my cancer story.
Still, I cannot rest easy.
What happens when she discovers that breast cancer kills?
What happens when she discovers how scared I was and still am?
What happens when she learns the truth that a doctor didn’t actually fix me?
Will she hold these gentle lies against me? After all, isn’t withholding information a lie?
As she discovers more about breast cancer, we will walk on unknown terrain. But at least the road we are heading on will be paved in truth.
How did you tell your children you had cancer?
Have you kept your cancer a secret from your children or anyone else? Why or why not?
Do you have any advice for me, as I know I will have to give her more details in the future?