One thing about being a single parent is that we have to be strong. We have no one to share the load with – mentally, emotionally or financially. So we’re forced to suck whatever life throws at us up, put a smile on our face and keep it moving. Even if life throws cancer at us.
When I got my breast cancer diagnosis on Feb. 18, 2016 – a day that will forever be ingrained in my head – I had many thoughts going through my mind. I was scared for me, but even more so for my son.
- How am I going to take care of Aiden?
- I don’t want him to see me like this.
- I don’t want to die … I need to be here for him.
- How am I going to explain this to him?
- How is he going to feel?
- What happens if I get really sick?
The first thing I did was sit him down and explain what was going on; I think open dialogue is so important. A lot of times we, as parents, want to shield our children from difficult situations. We don’t want them to worry so we just don’t tell them. But kids are perceptive little beings, they know something is going on. So I chose to take the transparency route.
He never cried, but he was very worried. He asked me questions, like:
- Are you going to die?
- Are you going to get really sick?
- Are you going to lose your hair?
- Are you going to be ok? What if you’re not ok?
I didn’t know how to answer those questions, but I did my best. I told him that cancer picked the wrong woman to mess with. I reminded him of how strong I am and told him that cancer didn’t stand a chance against me. Obviously, I was scared out of my mind, but he is the most important part of my life and I needed to make sure he felt safe. If he saw me falling apart, it would just make him worry and fall apart.
At first he wouldn’t let me out of his sight. If I sat on the couch, he was on the couch; if I went outside, he went outside; he even slept in my bed with me. Usually I would object, but I know he was scared of losing me so I let him be as clingy as he needed to be. It was hard because I never had any time alone to process everything, so I had to bury my emotions. Despite how I felt inside, I continuously assured him that I was going to be perfectly fine and always asked him if he had any questions. If he did, I did my best to answer them.
Finally, the day came for my double mastectomy with reconstruction. I didn’t have him go to the hospital with me; it was a long surgery, I was supposed to be home the next day and the hospital was more than an hour from my house. He stayed home with my sister.
Unfortunately, due to complications with pain management, I was stuck in the hospital for an extra night. I finally made it home a day later than I was supposed to. I was in so much pain, I hurt all over and it was hard to walk. It was extremely difficult for him to see me that way.
He went from the kid who wouldn’t let me out of his sight, to the kid who wouldn’t come near me. It was almost like he was mad at me for getting sick. He started acting out and being defiant. If I, or my mother who was there taking care of me, asked him to do something he wouldn’t do it, and he was acting out at school.
At first I was so sick, in so much pain and so medicated that I couldn’t really intervene the way that I should have. I just couldn’t.
Finally, my pain subsided a bit and I was able to sit him down and have a long, long talk about his behavior. I didn’t yell at him or put the blame on him. I understood that he didn’t know how he was feeling or how to cope with it. As unfortunate as it is, it is just a normal reaction. I let him know that he cannot continue down this path. I relied on him to help me and I needed my energy to fight cancer and get healthy; I couldn’t fight him, too.
I had a lot of setbacks after my mastectomy and I couldn’t even reach the recovery phase. I was in constant pain and I sat home crying most of the time because it honestly hurt to move. Finally, we learned that my expanders were the culprits of my pain and I scheduled a surgery to have them removed. The day those things came out of my body, I immediately felt better. I was able to walk better, I got my sense of humor back, and I was starting to feel like my old self again.
Seeing that changed him. He transitioned back to my normal son, again. He wasn’t defiant or overly clingy. He was just normal. It was a great feeling.
Then we learned I had to have chemotherapy. He got worried again about everything, but I assured him that I was going to be fine. I took him with me to the chemo teaching offered at my oncologist’s office. I let him listen to everything the nurse said and allowed him to ask questions. I wanted him to know everything that was going to happen to me, because it was also going to affect him.
He was really worried about me being bald, but after I lost all my hair he eventually got used to it and was ok with it. I wore wigs to work and out and about; sometimes I wore head scarves, but when I was at home, unless someone was there, I kept my head uncovered because it bothers me having things on my head.
He handled me going through chemo quite well and is truly acted like the man of the house. He cooked dinner most nights (or make sandwiches), mowed the lawn, took out the trash, helped clean up, took care of our dog, Pretty, and took care of me when I am very sick. A lot for anyone, but especially for an 11 year old. I am blessed to have such an amazing son; he stepped up more than I could ever imagine.
I think my transparency, positive attitude and a sense of humor really helped him (and me) get through this. I don’t know if I handled everything right with him during this journey, only time will tell, but I am so blessed to have such an incredible son.