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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 noded 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 living in Greenbelt, MD. Check out her creative writings and crafty goodness on her blog, www.CocktailMom.com. Or come to a yoga class and be inspired!

Lauren May 23, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Good luck, Gretchen!! Matt and I will be thinking about you all and wishing for the best. A speedy recovery! From your neighbor, Lauren
Gretchen Schock May 24, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Thank you for reading Lauren and for your kind words. Be well friend.
Rebecca May 29, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Gretchen, Wishing all the best for you and your lovely family! Hopefully those 24 days go by quickly and looking forward to big hugs after your speedy recovery! Rebecca

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