Friday, July 17, 2009

To tell your child or not tell your child?

To tell your children you have cancer, or not to tell your children you have cancer? I wish I had an angel like Mary had in this stained glass image of the Annunciation which is presently on display at the Navy Pier in Chicago.

Recently, on the HealthNetwork website, someone shared her experience as a grown child whose mother shielded her from her having cancer when she was 9. PJ Hammel lauded her mother for sparing the woman the knowledge of her cancer thereby preserving the daughter's childhood.


This is a really personal decision, and I suppose a tough one. As I have said before, I had my first bout when my daughter was 15 months, so that was no biggie, she lived it, I didn't "tell" her.

The second time, she was 4 1/2 years old. I didn't shield it from her, I merely told her I had cancer and was very sick and that things would be a little different and difficult while I was getting medicine for the illness.

I didn't shield her from it because you can't hide the fact that you're bald (in fact, I had no hair anywhere...I lost most of my eyelashes and eyebrows). I didn't know if Taxol was going to make me ill (it didn't make me throw up) but I knew that I was really sick on CAF.

In addition, previously I had been pregnant with twins. I had decided not to tell her until it was closer to my due date and I was showing as I thought that the concept of 9 months was a bit much. A friend, who had a child her age, asked and I told her I was pregnant and was carrying twins and was not going to tell my daughter until I was further along in my pregnancy.

Within 24 hours, she told her 4 1/2 year old that I was going to have a baby, which meant I had to tell my daughter. This made it really difficult when I miscarried at 3 1/2 months.

Knowing that I had expressly said I wasn't going to tell her and to have it bandied about with a pregnancy, I knew that you couldn't keep a cancer diagnosis quiet. People would talk in front of her, and most people had me with both feet in the grave at this point since it was stage IV.

I felt that not telling her about it would make it more scary and I certainly didn't want someone other than me telling her. I also felt that having a culture of denial wasn't the healthiest to start a child out in life with.

So....she knew. I also thought it was important that she know because she would have to be careful. I know women who had it swept under the rug and when their daughters developed breast cancer and were dumbfounded, it came out that the mothers had had it too....and perhaps they would have proceded differently had they known.

Was it the right choice? I don't know. Time will tell. She is a normal, self-absorbed teenager. She is proud that I went through Hell and came out the other side. Has it affected her in other ways? I don't know. I am fearful for that but as a mother, you're fearful for a lot of things you do in your parenting techniques.

Does she remember it? Probably not. She can't remember that we used to have dinner in the dining room every night in the house we had in Connecticut from her early childhood until she was, would it have made any difference? I don't know. She remembers going places and staying with people as I got treatments. More than that, not much.

When she's older, I'll ask her about the choice I made. Right now, I'll just count is as another difficult item in the list of things one deals with when one deals with a cancer diagnosis.


  1. It is very important that children are included. Of course if they are infanrs they won't understand, however as they get older and see the physical changes that cancer brings, being bald, sick, they won't feel as scared not telling them will leave them to question why is mommy so sick, what did I do to hurt mommy so she lost her hair. Children feel very guilty if they feel they might be to blame...Of course we know they are not, but to reassure them we have to keep the lines of communication open...


  2. Absolutely alli! Thanks for commenting. Lisa

  3. I think you made the right decision too. I really like the point you made about how this makes her so much more aware of the things that could possibly happen to her. All in all, I think seeing your resilience can encourage her to push through hard times. She'll admit down the line that her mom's a bad ass :)

  4. She knows and says to her friends that her mom is a bad ass....It has, in some regard, make her minimize cancer because she sees me come through it so many times. I suppose that's OK.

    This year she did have a wake up call as one of her associate's mother's died ....we think of cancer (it hasn't been said and although she is friends with him, she wasn't close at the time...really really neat kid) did bring it home. She does, however, approach me having cancer in the same way her father does....denial. Sigh.