Telling my children, who were 17, 14, and 8, that their mother had cancer was one of the most difficult things I have had to do as a parent. It was so difficult for me that I did not tell them right away—a decision I still regret to this day. Honesty really is the best policy. But I had to give myself time to come to grips with my diagnosis and my new reality that now included cancer. I felt I had to digest the news myself before I could be the strong, capable mother that they needed. And I had to take some time to educate myself about my diagnosis and my path forward.
Once I came to grips with my cancer diagnosis, I was ready to tell my children the truth about my cancer. I approached them individually, and I tailored my message to their ages and needs. I told my 17-year-old son first and was very honest and detailed about the diagnosis and the treatment. He was older, and I knew he could handle the information. Plus, he did not like being kept in the dark, and I promised him that I would honestly share with him everything about my disease from that day forward, a promise I have kept. For my 14-year-old daughter, I gave a little less detail but was still honest and clear about ovarian cancer. She accepted the news much more calmly than I had anticipated. She surprised me with a strength and resolve that I didn’t know she possessed. I was almost nonchalant when I told my youngest son about my diagnosis, keeping my words and message simple and reassuring. He took the news in stride and carried on with his life as an 8-year-old.
In hindsight, it was so much easier to talk to my kids about my diagnosis than I had thought it would be. I had been dreading telling them this news, but they ended up reassuring me that they could handle this diagnosis with courage and grace.
Eight years later, when I told them that my cancer had returned, they were incredibly supportive. The older two were adults by then and were completely involved in my care. I think this was empowering for them, and it certainly drew us all closer together as a family. I’ll never forget driving my youngest to high school one day, sharing with him that I was scared about my recurrence, giving him an opportunity to share his fears as well. He turned to me and said, “Mom, you beat it once, you’ll beat it again.”