That is not what I expected the doctor to say after my lumpectomy. Still hazy from anesthesia, it took me a minute to realize that meant cancer. At the time, my girls were five and eight years old, and what I dreaded most was the anxiety and fear I knew it would bring into their lives. They were young but they had heard the word cancer and they knew it was bad. I talked to them openly about my diagnosis, as I believe young children often imagine the worst when we try to protect them by withholding age-appropriate facts.
Elizabeth, then eight, wrote these words:
I felt so worried and scared about almost everything. What if my Mommy has an [sic] unexperienced doctor? What if they forget to do something that’s really important?
I felt like my worst nightmares were coming true. I had always thought about other Moms having cancer but not my own Mommy. Visions and terrible thoughts were going through my head. I felt like the whole world was against me. I felt so uncomfortable. Right after I heard I ran upstairs to my room. I couldn’t hold the tears in any longer. I sat down on my bed and cried.
Sara Ann, only five at the time, reacted to a more tangible sign of the disease. When you undergo radiation therapy, the therapist marks your body so that the beam is focused precisely. Sara Ann was afraid of the blue marks on my body, so i tried to be sure that I didn’t change clothes in front of her until they faded.
These are her words about the radiation marks:
I think that it’s like you’re going to die. And I don’t want you to die.
I just don’t like to see them ’cause it makes me think that they’re going to stay on forever. If they did, I would really cry.
And it’s sort of embarrassing ’cause when you went up in Heaven your blue marks would show.
I was fortunate; my tumor was detected early and, after radiation and five years of medication, chances are 97 percent that I am cured. As of January 2012, I’m a 14-year survivor and I am grateful.
The above photo was taken on our trip to Disney World, a few months after I finished radiation treatment. Our lives were disrupted for only a few short weeks. There are many women who have not been so fortunate, who have endured far more rigorous treatment and their children have had to watch them lose their hair and be miserably sick over a period of months rather than weeks. There are frightened children whose fears were realized as they watched their Mommy die. It is with them in mind that I ask for your support.