Rhode Island Monthly Breast Health 2011 : Page 2

SP ECIAL AD VER TISIN G SE CTI O N A Difficult Conversation How to tell — and how not to tell — your kids you have cancer. by Carol Ann Donnelly “I don’t remember” was the first response I received from every child I spoke with on this subject. One six-year survivor told me that her daughter, who was also now an adult, was will-ing to talk to me, “but I don’t know what good it will do you — she said she really doesn’t re-member anything.” At first it seemed Amanda’s mother was right. Over the phone Amanda confirmed what her mother told me concerning the manner in which her mother revealed her diagnosis. Amanda’s mother nervously blurted out that she had breast cancer and reassured her daughter that she would get through it. The only thing worse than hearing the words, “You have cancer,” is telling your children you have been diagnosed with the disease. As parents, we want to protect our children no matter if they’re three or thirty; and our children want to protect us. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer more than eleven years ago, I had no idea how to tell my child. My customary shoot-from-the-hip style, in hindsight, was not the best way to broach the subject with my sensitive sixteen-year-old daughter. She ran from the room and refused to discuss it. Ever. Five years later I received a second diagnosis of breast cancer. My daughter was an adult, and her reaction to my second bout of cancer was diff erent. She didn’t ignore the fact that I had cancer, and she even participated in the journey by taking me to my initial surgery and off ering to help out. However, like the first time, we didn’t discuss my disease. To this day when I refer to something that happened during one of my cancers her standard response is, “I don’t re-member,” and she changes the subject. 1 in 6 Rhode Island women develops breast cancer in her lifetime. During our conversation Amanda told me repeatedly that she didn’t remember much else, but I gently prodded and soon the flood gates opened. Her tears were unexpected for both of us. It became apparent that this level-headed young woman had buried the emotions con-cerning her mother’s disease and of her own uncertainty: Amanda’s mother has a mutated 102 RHODE ISLAND MONTHLY l OCTOBER 2011

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