Telling Your Kids You Have Cancer

Greenbelt mom, Gretchen Schock, says "There isn't an easy way to do it, but they have to hear it from you."

During a recent mammogram, the technician unexpectedly discovered a mass in my left breast.

After the appropriate number of images were taken, I was moved into another room to have an ultrasound performed. I couldn’t see the screen, but the technician had a permanent furrow in her brow as she swiped the wand back and forth over the same area on my breast. She stopped only to type something on the machine, and then she put the wand back to that exact spot. My heart began to race, and I was told the radiologist will speak to me in a few minutes.

The kind eyes of the radiologist and her directness about the mass put me at ease, and she assured me that at my age it’s most likely a benign fibroadenoma and just to be sure they would like to get a biopsy done. Thankfully, due to a cancellation, I was able to come the next afternoon.

I’m really good at keeping it together in these types of situations, but once I closed the door to my minivan, I pressed my forehead into the steering wheel and cried for a solid twenty minutes. I was scared, and it felt like my world was spinning out of control.

The next day, the doctor conducted a vacuum-assisted needle core biopsy to take four samples of the mass. After three long days of waiting, the doctor called to tell me that I have a very rare type of tumor that only 1 percent of women get.

It’s called a Phyllodes tumor.

“You need to see a breast surgeon,” the doctor on the phone informed me.

I tried to respond, but no sound would come from my mouth.

“Now. Oh...and Happy Birthday!”

I waited a few days before I told my children. I wanted to have all the answers to their questions. I did what I do best in these types of situations and I read everything I could on this type of tumor. On a day when everyone was in a good mood I told my 6- and 8-year-old sons that we needed to have a family meeting.

“Remember when I went to the doctor and they had to do some tests on my breast and I had that bandage?”

Both boys nodded their head. My youngest son, Z, chewed on the side of his mouth the way I do when I’m nervous.

“Well the doctor’s found a tumor and it’s called cancer.”

“What’s a tumor?” Z asked.

“It’s a mass,” I replied very matter-of-factly.

“What’s a mass?” Z immediately asked, becoming frustrated.

I should have thought through the language to use before starting this conversation.

“You know how we have cells in our body? Well, a mass or tumor is a collection of cells that aren’t very healthy for my body so the doctor wants to take it out.”

Both boys were very quiet and were no longer making eye contact.

“I’m going to have surgery and the doctor will take the tumor out and then I’ll be all better. Do you have any questions?”

“Yes, I do,” my oldest son replied. “Will you have a scar?”

“Yes, I’ll have a big scar and lots of bandages. There is going to be a long time when I can’t wrestle or get big squeezes … You’ll have to be very gentle.”

They both nodded their heads; I notice my youngest son blinking furiously. I wanted to keep the conversation light, and I was on the brink of tears myself, so I quickly diverted the conversation by showing them the ultrasound images. Both boys were intrigued because it looks similar to an x-ray image they have seen in books. The boys told me how cool it looks. I personally don’t think the tumor looks cool, but seeing it through their eyes, I was reminded of their innocence.

I held them extra close that night while we read bedtime stories.

As I leaned in to kiss my oldest son good night, he put his hands on both sides of my face.

“Twenty-four days,” he said seriously. “That’s how many days you have before surgery. I counted on my calendar. So everyday, for twenty-four days, I’ll give you a giant hug.”

I’m going to miss the giant hugs the most during recovery.

Take a moment and give the person you love a giant hug today!

Gretchen Schock is a mom, a writer and a yoga instructor. Check out her creative writings and crafty goodness on her blog, www.CocktailMom.com. Or come to a yoga class and be inspired!

About this column: Moms from Prince George's County talk about parenting—the rewards, the concerns, and more.

Jenni Pompi (Editor) May 23, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Gretchen, best of luck to you. What a sweet, sweet boy. I wish you a speedy recovery. I hope your road to being cancer free is a smooth one.
Jackie May 23, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Gretchen you know we are all thinking about you and will keep you in our prayers. I know the boys will have a lot of questions for you about the surgery. Be prepared!
Dawn Mooney May 24, 2012 at 12:32 AM
I love your son's response, and I hope those giant hugs are hitting the spot right about now!
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Jenni, thank you so much for reading. I'm hoping that after May 30th, when I'll be having surgery, that I'll never have to ever think of cancer again. Be well friend.
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 12:11 PM
Jackie- thank you so much for reading and adding me to your prayer list. Be well.
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Yes, Dawn those hugs are hitting the right spot indeed. Thanks for reading.
Michelle Mangino May 24, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Gretchen you are such a strong woman, I loved the article! Get as many giant hugs as you can and if u need anything please let me know....
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Thank you for reading Michelle! I will most certainly let you know if we need anything, neighbor.
Sara Beth Levin Weller May 24, 2012 at 02:08 PM
There's not a whole lot I can add, except to say, you are amazing, and it shows through the outpouring of support I've seen for you. I am throwing my hat into that support ring. All my best and heartfelt wishes to you and your whole family.
erin May 24, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Wow. You are so brave and such an unbelievable mom. It sounds like you have two amazing boys who are going to give you so much strength and inspiration throughout your recovery. I will be praying for a successful surgery and a quick recovery with lots of kisses instead of hugs!
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Thank you Sara for reading and for your support.
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Thank you for your kind words Erin. I think the boys will supply hours of entertainment while I am recovering. It will be the L & Z show!!! Be well friend.
Mel Hindby May 24, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Oh my hat I had tears rolling down my face! The love for your boys shows abundantly through your writing. My continuing prayers of helping and comfort go out to you and your precious family. I pray they get all the cancer out and you have a speedy recovery. God bless xo
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Thank you Mel for your kind words. I am overflowing with love for my boys, I'm happy to hear it pours out in my writing as well. Give the ones you love giant hugs this week!
S Skolnik May 24, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Gretchen, having just gone through surgery myself and in week two of recovery, your post made me teary as I can relate to what you are going through (and my problem was not even cancer). My kids have been incredibly helpful and loving and strong and I know yours will be as well. There are a few tips I can share with you if you are interested in terms of postoperative and recovery....
Valerie Trefry May 24, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Gretchen...I LOVE YOU!!! I too will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Please let me know if there is ANYTHING at all I can do for you. You are a fantastic mom and are doing such a good job with the boys. Love you!!!
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Thanks S. Skolnik I would love to hear any postoperative advice. Please!!!
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Thank you Valerie for reading and your kind words, I will keep you posted.


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