*Insert your descriptor here - examples are athlete, health food addict, child (urgh, the worst) etc.
When you are diagnosed with cancer, you become an "other" - you cross over from the world where an argument at work is your biggest concern and you really cannot seem to muster up the wherewithal to give a crap about mundane, silly things that used to bother you. (I speak for me, but I have observed and been told by others who have been personally affected by cancer that they feel the same.)
Your first impulse is to say, "That is impossible because I..." fill in your blank there - for me, it was but I am a mom. That was really the biggest part of my identity for the past 10 years and though I do not want to change that integral piece of me, I do want to focus on being Lisa, too, which I have spoken about many times on this blog this dichotomy and how I split myself into professional Lisa and Mommy Lisa and that was all there was available. Now, I know I need the bandwidth for a lot more than just those two modes and I am enjoying finding my way into that world of oh, I am me and can so things without my children and still be a good mom.
Those stages of grief definitely apply to breast cancer. For me, I was in denial for about two minutes - I was not able to reason away the biopsy results - I kind of just knew inside that it was true. Then, I was angry (e.g., why me and not that woman), I bargained (e.g., if this could be wrong, I will do everything and be a better person), I got depressed (e.g., wow, look at that mom, she doesn't have breast cancer, she can just live a normal life and I will never have a normal life again ever), and then, eventually, I got around to a fake acceptance but I did not truly accept this road, this cancer until I went public and shared it to everyone who wants to know!
The hardest people I have ever had to tell that I have breast cancer is my children. In fact, I did not want to tell them anything. I wanted to keep their illusions of me as superwoman and how I did everything for them and to take care of them and did not want that to be shown as just an illusion. I mean, I did a lot on my own and I treasure every memory and every "first" but I also knew my constant involvement in their lives was hitting a sell by date as they were no longer 2 and 5 years old anymore.
I consulted with a few mental health professionals including one at my treatment hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and she was adamant that I must tell the children immediately. I did not, I waited a little but not too long. I just did not know what to tell them. I wanted to be honest but I had nothing to be honest with - for the first weeks of diagnosis I just knew I had cancer in my breast but I was learning hard and fast that this did not mean it was only in my breast, it did not mean if could be removed by surgery, it did not mean anything in terms of what are my chances of life/death? It was unknown until surgery and even 8 months post that, anything can happen but I am aiming for, training for being a survivor and kicking cancer's ass to the curb forever.
When I told them, I couched it in the terms that it was a very good thing that the cancer had been found and that I would have surgery to remove it (I inherently knew it was good that it was found, I was not sure about surgery at this point as I was awaiting petscan results but I thought I could be positive). My older child's first and only question was, "Are you going to die?" Hitting right to the core of a cancer diagnosis period. I mean no one knows when or if they are going to die but this question was direct and laser focused. I did all I could to believe it and say, "No, I am not going to die." This was acceptable and anything said after this point was not important because my oldest got the confirmation and the comfort she needed.
My second child, not so much. He has struggled with this - he is also younger and more literal. He heard somewhere that lots of people with cancer die and he calmly told me he would visit me when I went to live in the cemetery. To which I replied, "I am not dying now go do your homework."
The most important advice the mental health professionals I consulted told me was to make sure the children knew it was okay to talk about my illness and to tell me if anyone said something or asked something that bothered them. The grapevine is hot, even in 1 and 4 grade and other parents meaning well or kids just being kids could say something that impacts the child and if they do not know they can talk to you, they will keep it inside and eventually fall apart.
See, kids think everything is their fault - it is just how kids are made. So if you do not talk about your diagnosis and what is coming as you know it and are comfortable to share, then they will just think you are sick because they are bad kids or that you are losing your hair because you are dying. You have to be open and honest, but keep the news positive as long as you can. Of course, if God forbid, you are given a terminal diagnosis, please do not follow my advice.
It is very hard to be a good mom, a good anything when you are dealing with active cancer treatments. When I first understood that I definitely needed chemotherapy (find out more about my diagnosis on my About Me page www.thetimebetweenis.weebly.com/about me) I hoped for a real awesome chemo-camp where I could have sent my kids to have people there to cater to their every whim so I could get through it without having them see me fall apart.
They saw me fall apart but they also saw the help pour through from my brothers, dad, mother, mother in law, friends, cousins and more. They had buffers to help them through it in so many ways and I think it made them stronger because of it and more open to the idea that there is a world without just mommy doing everything. As much as cancer sucks, I think these were good lessons for them to get. I would have preferred it been a bad flu but it is what it is.
Once I finished chemotherapy, it was a whole new world and they now can see that I am doing better and functional. We had an awesome sticky pad countdown chart on my wall of my bedroom until the last chemo. During my chemo, my kids got strep throat like 4 times, countless viruses and more and with the help of everyone, I was able to avoid getting those germs and did not have to be hospitalized so I consider it all a win win.
Now that it is in my rearview mirror, I recognize how important it is for chemotherapy to break you down to make sure any cancer cells that escaped can be killed but during chemo, I wished I never had to have it.
I hope if you are going through cancer treatments and you have children that you have help and can force your young ones to be at peace with the fact that life is random and that a breast cancer diagnosis is actually a good thing (because the alternative if you have it and no diagnosis) is far worse.
Source: The 5 Stages of Grief grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/
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