In the fall of 2019, we would have to tell our children both the best news and the worst news within a single month. In late July, we found out that I was pregnant with our third child, a daughter. It was only a few weeks after this joyous news that I was told that I had cancer. Two life-changing moments — high and low — handed to me at once. I was overwhelmed.
In August, we were all playing Monopoly for family game night. I passed “go” and went to grab $200, but ended up dropping the bills — a slip that ended up being fortuitous. That’s when I felt it: hand to my shirt as I leaned over to retrieve the cash, my hand slipped over the unmistakable lump hiding just under my skin. Immediately, a lump also seemed to appear in my throat as panic set in. I probably would’ve thought nothing of it. Maybe it was a bruise from walking into something? Maybe I pulled a muscle doing something? However, I knew I had to get it checked as soon as possible. I made an appointment for the following morning with my doctor.
As I was walking in, I had settled my initial fear with thoughts of all the other things this lump could be. It had to be a cyst or something, there had to be some other benign explanation. But what if? I couldn’t wait for the appointment to be over, for the testing to be done, so that I could put a temporary worry behind me and enjoy my pregnancy. My lack of nerves was premature as my breath caught when I was told it did look suspicious. The doctor wanted to get me in for a biopsy that day to rule anything out. We both said, “I’m sure it’s nothing” — in hindsight, I’m sure she was trying to calm me, while I said it out loud to make that outcome feel more certain.
I was sent over to a hospital nearby to take a closer look at it. I was told that I would need a biopsy done and they could schedule it within the next week. Now my anxiety, which must have been lying in wait, started kicking in. We were leaving for our annual trip to the Jersey shore the next day! I just wanted to get this all done and out of the way.
They moved forward and said they would have the results in a few days: an eternity. The next morning, we headed down the shore and I tried to put the previous day out of my mind. Still, I anxiously awaited the call to come through declaring that I was officially in the clear. The cloud lingering over me would then dissipate, allowing me to enjoy the sunny remaining days of summer with my family.
On the third day into our trip, I got the call. I was at the shuffleboard courts with our son while my husband and our daughter were riding their bikes back to the shore house. My son and I were laughing and having a great time, when I saw my phone ring. My breath caught. I stopped in the middle of the game to answer. My heart skipped a beat when I saw who the call was coming from. I knew they were calling with the results and when I answered, and I was waiting to hear, “It’s benign….blah, blah, blah”.
However, the script on the other end of the line was something I was not prepared for. I had to walk away from the court and my son. I heard the words, “You are positive for breast cancer….” The rest was a blur. I just stood there with my back to my son as tears started streaming down my face. I took a deep breath and asked her to restate what she had just said. What kind did I have? What stage? What does this all mean? I was scared, very scared. All I could think of were our children: how was I going to tell them? How was I going to answer their questions when I didn’t even have any answers myself?
I tried to walk away and hide the tears as I was just trying to deal with the heavy news I had just received. My son came over and asked, “Why are you crying mom?” I didn’t know what to say to him. I hadn’t even begun to process what was happening. I called my husband to tell him the news and to come meet us. When he arrived, I was still completely in shock and just collapsed into his arms.
The next day, I awoke to the sounds of footsteps running into the kitchen. I could barely move. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, spending all of my sleeping hours instead Googling all I could about breast cancer. When I finally forced myself out of bed, I tried my best to put on a smile at breakfast, but as soon as I saw the kids, I broke down crying again. Our son looked up from his pancakes and asked again, “Mom, why are you crying? What’s going on?”
We are always honest with our children, and I knew I had to be straight with him and tell him what was going on. So I asked him, “Do you know what cancer is?” He said, “Yes, it’s when someone loses all of their hair and has less than 1% chance of living.” I said “Yes, that’s one answer, but there are many types of cancers and mommy has one that is curable. I have great doctors and I’m learning about this as you are. Ask me any questions and I will try to answer them for you. If I don’t know, I will find out.” I gave our younger daughter an edited explanation that was just enough and something she could absorb. Every question that was asked, I made sure both kids heard the answers so they were informed.
We waited to tell the kids about their new sibling until we nailed down my treatment plan. I was trying to absorb as much as I could to learn about this disease and make decisions that would not only affect my life, but the life of our unborn child. The kids were both over the moon when they found out we were going to welcome another member into our crew. We gave them a fun scavenger hunt and they had to use the clues to find letters that completed a sentence, “We’re having a baby!” We are all so grateful every day when we look at her little face.
I am now a year and a half into my treatment. Every night at our family dinner table, we share what our “high” and “low” was for that day. We make it a point to look at our struggles and appreciate them for the things that we can learn from. Throughout this entire journey, there have been many highs and many lows, and our children have been involved right from the start. They even took turns with the razor to shave my head for the first time! Being open and honest with each other really helped us all to process the weight of what was going on.