This is what I've been thinking about lately: what do you do when you're confronted with a serious illness and you have small children. Do you protect them and not tell them anything and hope against hope, or do you give them a slightly watered down understanding about how your life is about to change but in a way that provides hopefulness and security? For example, if you are diagnosed with breast cancer (as I will have confirmed on January 18) or if you have a massive heart attack and your chances for a long life are very slim, how do you manage your life and your illness with your kids?
The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September of 2006, Satchel: 10 and Jakob: 4, I was terrified. There is nothing like hearing the word CANCER and then thinking HOLY SHIT I DON'T WANT TO DIE. I came home shell shocked and sat on the couch crying until I had to pick up the kids. Of course at that time we were in the middle of a massive home renovation and displaced, living in a house a few blocks from my neighbourhood, my friends and my support system.
This time I feel better prepared having been through it once but I'm also hoping that what I have again is DCIS and contained in the milk ducts. Also I have a plan: I'm going to remove my remaining breast because it is obviously NOT MY FRIEND. And having breastfed for three years, my thinking towards breasts in general has become quite utilitarian and I don't really need it anymore (I'm deliberately not thinking about the fun part of having breasts). And again, THEY ARE NOT MY FRIENDS AND SEEM TO HAVE A DEATH WISH.
So how to deal with the kids. Satchel knows more at 13 then I will tell Jakob at 8. Part of my reasoning behind telling them is so that they have a slight understanding of why Mommy might be acting the way she is with slightly less patience and perhaps a tad hysterical.
Going back to the first time, before my mastectomy, I remember tearfully writing them letters letting them know how proud I was of them and how much I loved them ... and these were really good bye letters because the idea of a 7-hour surgery freaked me out, just in case the worst happened. But after a 15-hour surgery (I have small veins and arteries and a lot of micro surgery was involved) I'm much more confident this time around.
When I was 13, my dad had a massive heart attack and was in and out of hospital for the next 2 1/2 years before he finally succumbed. I find it curious that my mom and/or dad never sat us down to explain the situation. Looking back I would have been much more understanding to his mood swings, his explosiveness, knowing that he faced death every day leaving 4 young kids at home. Even understanding how the medication he was on changed his personality would have been helpful. But I think my parents were of the generation where ignorance is bliss and frankly better for the kids. And perhaps he wasn't ready to speak of his mortality out loud. I'll never know. I try to put the pieces together by asking my two older brothers questions, since they are much older than I and had moved into an adult relationship with my dad. And now with my mom dementing, I can't even ask her, or frankly talk to her about my current situation.
So where I stand now is that Satch knows I have a follow-up on Monday the 18th to determine what my situation is but also that I will be fine and Jakob knows nothing until I actually have information to pass on. And once I know everything on the 18th, well, I'll figure the rest out then.
But any advice is welcome!
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