Pre-Mother’s Day Conversation

Posted on: May 7th, 2015 by

“Mommy, what’s that?”

This week, my prosthesis had fallen out of my specialty bra and fallen into Arielle’s line of vision.

Stay calm, I thought. I knew I’d eventually tell my daughter the truth about my having had breast cancer. I just didn’t think I’d have to peripherally broach the subject now when she was at the tender age of almost seven. Plus, I was pretty good at hiding my prosthesis….until now.

I knelt down, looked into her eyes, and put it in an age-appropriate way.

“Years ago, mommy had a boo boo in her breast and a nice doctor removed it. Because he removed the boo boo, my breast got smaller than the other one. So I got this thing called a prosthesis to put in my bra to make both breasts look the same size.”

“Oh,” she said, and I could see her mind working. “Does everyone have that pro-…pro- in their bra?”

“Prosthesis. No, honey. Many women do not have a prosthesis, but some do. Some women have different sized breasts because they had a boo boo removed.”

“But why is your breast smaller than your other one?”

“Like I said, a doctor took out the boo boo, and if a person removes part of a breast, it becomes smaller, right?”

She nodded.

I showed her my breasts so she could see the difference in size. For the first time, it seems, she noticed it.

“Do you want to touch the prosthesis? You can, you know.”


“Okay, that’s fine,” as I demonstrated how I put the prosthesis into my bra.

A few mornings later, Arielle watched me putting the prosthesis into my bra. No more need to hide my morning routine anymore. Once the bra was on, she gently poked where the prosthesis was.

Arielle is still mulling it over. And so am I.

Case closed. For now. I breathed relief. Until I later discovered she was asking a close friend if her breasts were symmetrical and whether she had to put something in her bra.

She doesn’t remember when she was four and curiously fingered my scars. Or does she? I don’t want her to remember this. I want her to think my breasts are my breasts. A tall order, I know, but it is my wish for now.

I’m not quite sure if I handled this mother-daughter situation quite right. Of course, there’s no right way to do parenthood, but I tried to explain the situation the best way I could to my child. But this conversation was a catalyst to self-reflection, and in the end, I have more questions than answers.

Why have I felt so much shame that I felt compelled to hide my prosthesis? I’m now angry at myself for trying to hide this part of me. I just felt that, prior to this conversation, she was too young to even hover around the truth of the tragedy that is breast cancer. Truth is, I didn’t feel I was ready to share this part of my life with her. At least not yet.

Why have I felt that I need two breasts to feel like a whole woman? I know better. There is no right way to do cancer. And there’s no right way to do reconstruction or not do reconstruction. Yet, reconstruction was the right choice for me. Having breasts are important to me. Why? I know I’d be no less of a woman without my breasts. Or do I really believe this?

Why am I so bent on having symmetrical breasts? I cannot stand being asymmetrical. Why do I need a prosthesis to feel beautiful? Am I inauthentic for wanting a prosthesis? After all, I wear an illusion daily. And what am I teaching my daughter? Symmetry is best?

Why do I not want to share my breast cancer story with her? I want to spare her the pain, but eventually I will be open about it. When she’s old enough. I’m not sure when that will be, though.

My nephew was 16 when I broke the news that I was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was just three years old. I did this because I felt compelled to. He had just added me as a Facebook friend and would potentially read my blog posts. I had to tell him. I saw the pain in his eyes when I broke the news. “You’re going to be alright, right?” he asked. And I said, “yes” with confidence, not knowing if I was actually alright.

Why have I taught my daughter to use the words breasts and prosthesis, but I use “boo boo” to describe the tumor? I’m skirting around the tumor talk for a long while. She’s not ready, of course. And that is okay.

So going into Mother’s Day, Arielle has learned that mommy is different. But, then again, in our family, we celebrate differences in people. As I always tell her, “Everyone is different, and our differences make us all unique and wonderful.”

Now I must learn to accept these words.


How have you explained cancer or any illness to your child/children?

How do you feel about having/not having breasts?

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11 Responses to Pre-Mother’s Day Conversation

  1. Julie Goodale had this to say about that:

    Sounds like you handled it very well. I think kids are so matter of fact in how they view life. Things are just what they are, and they try to fit them into what they know. I remember my nephew’s confusion and curiosity about my head. When he met me I was bald. The next time I saw him I had curly hair. At first he didn’t recognize me, but as he climbed up on the couch and played with my hair, I saw the recognition. I’m sure he doesn’t remember it now, but I watched him puzzle it out all evening. Several times he looked at me and said, “You have hair.” – Just a fact of life in his world.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thanks, Julie. You are so right about kids. They are adaptable, perhaps more so than adults give them credit for. Thank you for sharing your story about you and your nephew. It shows how adaptable kids can really be; they often adjust to circumstances pretty well.

      Thank you for your comment.

  2. Terri had this to say about that:

    We didn’t get an instruction book for this did we Beth? I remember when I had cancer the first time and I returned home with percentages of my chances for survival, which at the time with surgery, chemo and radiation were 95%. My youngest son looked at me and said, “Why can’t they say 100%?”. I replied, “Because they’re not God.” That was my answer 12 years ago. He is an adult now and telling him I had cancer again last year wasn’t any easier. We still both had tears. We just do what we can in these situations. I had to smile when I first saw the picture of the prosthesis on FB. I recognized it immediately since I lived with that for 7 months waiting for reconstruction. I didn’t like wearing the prosthesis. I feel happy and blessed I was able to have DIEP flap surgery. My body will never be the same but I don’t need to tell you that. We are here, Mother’s Day is Sunday and we get to celebrate that. I wish you a day full of happiness Sunday and every Mother’s Day to follow.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Terri,

      No, we certainly didn’t get an instruction book. That’s why parenting is so difficult; it’s hard to know whether what we are doing is the appropriate thing. I’m sorry you’ve had cancer twice and had to have the talk with your son twice. It is a very difficult conversation, indeed.

      I also had the DIEP flap surgery, but I needed a prosthesis anyway because prior to the DIEP, my breast had three lumpectomies and radiation. It was pretty damaged and there was less breast to work with in the first place. Luckily, the surgeons were great, and they did their best to ensure that the breasts at least looked as symmetrical as possible.

      Still, I needed (er…wanted) a prosthesis anyway.

      Thank you for the Mother’s Day wishes. I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day and many, many more.

  3. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    Excellent post. Figuring out how much and when to tell kids is not easy. My kids were young adults when I was diagnosed and I still wanted to protect them, especially since their grandma’s experience was still fresh in their minds. But they wanted and deserved the truth. I think you handled things just fine. You offered Ari age appropriate information and she seemed satisfied. Calling your tumor a boo boo makes sense to me and more importantly, made sense to her. You’ll keep figuring stuff out as you go along. As for all your own questions, well, you’re human. You’re a woman. You’re a mom and you’re doing the best you can. And that will be enough. Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thank you, Nancy! It’s true that no matter how old one’s kids are, they are still our kids and we want to protect them. I agree that our children need and deserve the truth; the trick is the age-appropriateness.

      You’re right: I’m doing the best I can. I hope your Mother’s Day was wonderful.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Round Up: The Mother’s Day Edition | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  5. Catherine had this to say about that:

    I don’t have children, Beth. But your post nevertheless leaves me thinking. Why am I comfortable with one breast in some situations, and deeply uncomfortable in others?

    It sounds like you handled that moment very well. I love your stories of you and your daughter. There’s so much love between you.

    Happy mother’s day. :)

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thank you for reading my posts. I appreciate it.

      I know what you mean about all those questions. Perhaps I’m overthinking about it all, but then again, it’s completely natural to have more questions than answers sometimes.

  6. Eileen@womaninthehat had this to say about that:

    Beth, you couldn’t have handled it better. Of course it made a deep impression on Ari. The prosthesis caught her by surprise which will raise more questions. You’ve laid the ground work for an honest relationship. Ari will value that always. Good job and happy belated Mother’s Day.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Thank you for your comment; I really appreciate it. I really do want that honest relationship and open lines of communication with Ari, so this incident was a big part of keeping our relationship and even more communication about breast cancer real.

      Thank you for the Mother’s Day wishes. It was a wonderful day. :)

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