‘Your mommy has cancer.’
When I was 45 years old, these were words I had to tell my six children, who ranged in age from 5 to 18. They were words I was still struggling to comprehend myself, and once I spoke them aloud our entire family was plunged into this seemingly irreversible world of cancer.
Being diagnosed at any age is difficult and poses its own unique challenges. For me, driving the kids to soccer practice or music lessons, or even getting a meal on the table or the house cleaned were, some days, simply unachievable. I was so blessed to have the support of my family and church community, who time and again came to the rescue.
Finding ways of explaining cancer to my children that accounted for their different ages and characters was difficult and took considerable thought. For my three young boys, I used the example of having ‘bad Lego blocks’ in my body that the doctor had to take out. Later, I described chemotherapy to them as destroying any remaining nasty Lego blocks that my doctor couldn’t remove.
My oldest son needed reassurance that only some cases of breast cancer were terminal. Being a cricket fan, he could only think of Jane McGrath, and that was hard for him.
One of my daughters, who is interested in medicine, wanted to know specific details, while my other daughter desperately needed reassurance that her world as she knew it would not change.
But our family did change.
Looking back, the three and a half years that contained operations, surgeries, a recurrence and chemotherapy/radiation treatments refined and redefined who we were.
Yes, it was hard, even painful at times, especially when watching your children struggling because of a disease that you have and seeing your husband having to do so many things you usually did. But God used cancer to strengthen our family’s bond and gave us a deep appreciation for what we meant to each other and how precious each day together was.