Breast cancer is certainly on the increase in younger women. Many of these women are mothers with young children. What do you tell the kids?
If the child is under the age of five you can probably go through your entire treatment without ever having to explain it.
From the age of about five, children become far more aware and will notice changes to their mother’s looks and behaviour. In this instance it is best to explain your cancer in terms they will understand. Perhaps describe it as a sore place that the doctors can’t put a plaster on because it is on the inside.
Be prepared for children to become clingy as they notice your hair loss and other changes. If they are in crèche or nursery school, explain to the school and teacher that you have a health problem and that they must please
be on the look out for behavioural changes. Kiddies may also invent tummy aches and headaches to stay at home with mummy.
The pre-adolescent (7-11 year-old) needs to know slightly more. You could tell them that it is a lump that needs to be shrunk and removed (or removed and then treated) – there is no need to talk about cancer or tumours. At this age they will also tend to cling and the school needs to be taken into your confidence to prevent adverse behaviour and performance at school.
Teenagers are complex creatures of themselves – add to that the weight of mom’s breast cancer diagnosis and who knows what could happen?!
You can’t avoid telling them the truth. Sit them down in a quiet, private place and explain the diagnosis and the proposed treatment. Where possible, arrange for a breast cancer survivor to come so that your children can ask questions of someone who has been through the treatment and come out on the other side. If you have boys you could suggest that, when you are not feeling great, they help by making you a cup of tea and keeping the music down.
Teenage girls will require more help. They are just developing their own beautiful breasts and thinking how cool womanhood is! Take her along on your next visit to the breast clinic / oncologist. Encourage her to ask questions of the nursing staff, doctors and other medical professionals – but beware of letting her sit in the waiting room too long listening to horror stories!!
There is a tendency for teenagers to distance themselves from situations. If you see this starting to happen – take control immediately. Explain that, whereas you realise that they don’t want to see you looking ill (such as the day after chemo) the treatment of breast cancer is relatively short and you shall soon be back to your old self. Maybe send them on a sleep-over to a friend for the day when you are at your worst – but keep them involved the rest of the time – maybe even with specific tasks that they can do to help your recovery.
No matter their age, you need to be on the look out for emotional upset and stress in your children. If their emotional needs are more than you can handle, contact a trained counsellor who is experienced in breast cancer family counselling. Contact details can be obtained from Bosom Buddies on 0860 283 343.
There are many single mothers with breast cancer who, on top of coping with their diagnosis and treatment, have the added pressure of being the only support person and breadwinner for their young children.
An overseas study has shown that single mothers with breast cancer have a higher chance of developing depression and a greater risk of self-esteem issues in themselves and their children. It is essential that you create a strong support network to help you during your treatment phase. If you do not have family members to help then you must ask your friends and join your closest breast cancer support group.
Written by Heather Pansegrouw