Telling Your Children "Mom Has Cancer"

I have spent my life devoted to kids. I was the neighborhood babysitter. I started my career as a kindergarten teacher. Eventually, I went on to get a master's degree in school counseling and then became a school administrator.  

I’m devoted to helping families navigate life challenges. I help with parenting issues, resources, and behavioral interventions. It’s a true joy of mine to guide a family towards solutions. But, nothing brings me joy like being a mom.  

I am a Mom to two amazing boys. My husband and boys are my life! They are my biggest blessing. I’ve spent my life doing everything to love my boys unconditionally and mold them into the incredible young men they are.  

I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer one year ago this month. I remember asking the doctor, “What does that even mean?” She explained to my husband and me that the journey was going to be long and challenging, after hearing this, my thoughts immediately went to my children. Let me tell you- all the experience, all the degrees, all the advice I’ve given could have never prepared me for this moment. Never!

My husband and I knew my cancer was serious, but we didn’t have all the information needed to make decisions. Because of the aggressive nature of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, my doctor wanted to do multiple scans and tests. This process was going to take a few weeks to walk through (by far, this was the worst part of my journey - I promise, it gets easier). The forefront of my thoughts was my boys. They deserve to know this life-altering news, but what do I tell them? There are so many unanswered questions. I struggled to find the words when I didn’t even have all the information myself.  

No mother ever wants to tell her child “I have cancer.” I’ve spent my life protecting them and now my “situation” (this is my term of endearment for my cancer) is going to be their biggest life pain? My heart and soul were in pieces. I can’t protect them from this. I’m going to be the one who delivers the most devastating news of their lives.  

I had no clue how I was going to tell my boys this news. How will they respond? When do I tell them? To tell my boys something that would hurt them was incomprehensible to me. My heart was so heavy and I hurt so deeply. I cried tears that came from the deepest place. It was a gut-wrenching pain that is indescribable- one that probably only a mother feels. Over and over I kept thinking I just can’t hurt them like this.

After a few days of letting this information sink in, I told my husband that I would like to wait until we had all the test results before telling our boys. I wanted to be able to give them the whole story; not just part of the story. I wanted to wrap my brain around this news fully before I carried the concern to their hearts. The decision to wait felt right, but was difficult. I felt as if I was keeping a deep, dark secret; as if I was being unfair to them.

Only my parents, our brothers and their wives, and a few close prayer warriors knew about my cancer. Let me just say - it was probably the longest two weeks of my life keeping my diagnosis private.

We walked through every scan, every test, every appointment. We prayed and along with my medical team, we made decisions and formulated a plan. When this plan was final and I had all the information, peace came over me, and I had the confidence that my boys were going to be ok. I felt like this news was bearable and they would be able to wrap their brains around the plan- at least as much as possible when your mom has cancer. 

The day we planned to tell them was a hard day and one I will never forget. But, our minds had absorbed this information and we were much more able to be calm and confident in what we said. They cried! … We all cried! It was hard and raw and emotional and a harsh reminder that life can be unfair sometimes. We encouraged each other and talked about what all would be involved. They were sad but supportive and determined to fight the fight with me! They became my biggest cheerleaders…and I love them so much.

Every journey is unique and every child is different. This was the right plan for my boys. I knew it. My God-given mother’s intuition guided me to do the best thing for them- like it has so many times. Let me encourage you to let yours do the same. Moms know their babies! They know them in the deepest way. Let your heart guide you…and trust in your intuition- It’s God-given and won’t let you down.

Photo courtesy of author.