Talking to Young Kids About a Mesothelioma Cancer Diagnosis
September 13, 2013
Burdened with a grave diagnosis — peritoneal mesothelioma — I was distraught. Not only did I have to deal with it myself, but I had to somehow inform my children. At the time of my diagnosis, my children were 6 and 1.
What would I tell them?
I was told there was no cure. How was I to explain to my children that I had a terminal illness? I couldn’t explain the prognosis without first explaining what “terminal” meant, but there was no way that I was going to tell my first-grader that his mother was going to die.
Fear and an Explanation
I found a physician to treat me. However, that physician was in Pittsburgh, and I lived more than a thousand miles away, in Baton Rouge, La. My doctor informed me that I would be in Pittsburgh for a minimum of three weeks.
All sorts of fearful questions entered my head:
- What if I never return?
- What will become of my children?
- Will they remember me?
At this point, I knew that I had to tell my 6-year-old the truth. But was he ready for the truth? I decided that I would give him small doses of information, little by little.
I told him that I was having stomach problems and that there was only one doctor who could help me. I asked him if he knew what cancer was.
He said, “Yes. It’s when you have abnormal cells in your body.” I was dumbfounded!
He informed me that he had learned that from Arthur the aardvark! He asked me if I was going to lose my hair. I told him that it was possible, but that it would grow back.
Because I never showed fear, my son never showed fear. I told him that we would pray and ask God to heal me.
Before I left, I gave my kids a wall calendar and circled my departure date and my tentative return date. Every night after saying their prayers, they would cross out a day. Every day that passed was another day closer to my return.
Thankfully, my mother was able to keep my children, so their routines never changed.
While in Pittsburgh, I made it a point to call every day, sometimes twice a day. I made sure that I was well rested and in a good emotional place. I always told my oldest son that I was OK and that everything was going well.
Once I returned home, I asked my oldest if he wanted to see my bandages. Initially, he was afraid and reluctant, but he came around.
A Wig Named Janet
During the first two years of treatment, I never lost my hair. The third year, I was given a new chemotherapy regimen and was told that I would definitely lose my hair.
This time around, my baby was now 4 and was fully aware that I was leaving every 21 days for the hospital. I sat the both of them down and explained to them that my cancer was back and that I was going to lose my hair.
I bought a wig that I named Janet. My kids loved the wig! They said that I had become a transformer. My youngest son would put it on his head and walk around the house. Whenever we were in public, he would tell people, “My mom’s hair isn’t real. Did you know it can come off?” He thought it was so cool.
Never underestimate what your children know or what they will understand. I thought that I would have to go into great detail about cancer, the side effects, etc. Who knew that Arthur the aardvark already had it covered?