As a mom of two boys, I’m used to having to sit them down from time-to-time for a good old fashioned “talk.” The reasons have varied – maybe I noticed they didn’t do so well on their last math test, or perhaps it was time to decide between playing football full-time versus baseball, or they needed womanly advice on girls. I can handle these types of conversations, but what I wasn’t used to doing was talking about myself.
After all, I am MOM. Also known as head chef, housekeeper, chauffeur, cheerleader, disciplinarian, energizer bunny, accountant and, oh yes, full-time employee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, what I was about to tell them had everything, and nothing at all, to do with all of these hats I wear.
I was about to tell my boys that I, their mom, have breast cancer. As I looked at my sons’ 11 – and 16-year-old faces, I immediately saw their fear when they heard the word “cancer.” I pushed through and explained to them about the millions of survivors who are now living healthy lives, and that Mom was determined to be one of them…with their help.
They were very concerned, so I told them there were several things they could do to help me: practice good hand hygiene and help more with household chores. My youngest son looked fairly relieved and said, “Really? Is that it? Well, I can definitely do that!”
I then went on to tell them about some of the physical changes they would see as a result of my treatment, like hair loss. I assured them that I needed their help in picking out the right wigs and scarves. Mama has to look good!
Looking back on it, I realize that by giving them “something” to do, I helped them feel powerful and more in control. I think we’re all like that, right? As soon as I hear that someone is sick or has lost a loved one, I immediately feel better or not as helpless if I’m given a job – pick up their kids, bring them dinner, etc. My kids were the same way. They were so proud to come home from school and, without me asking, wash their hands or unload the dishwasher. They were helping mom get better.
Once my treatment started, I wasn’t sure how the boys would respond or how I would feel. The boys were so attentive when I returned home after chemo sessions. We made those evenings special family nights and a time to relax and unwind together. I also made a point to ask them regularly if they had any questions, fears or concerns about my cancer. I told them we could join support groups where they could meet other kids who were coping with parents who have cancer.
I’m happy to say that after having Stage II breast cancer, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, I’m thankful to be cancer free today!
Getting through cancer treatment takes courage and positive thinking. It also takes empowering yourself and others to practice simple steps to stay as healthy as possible. Here’s a resource I used during my cancer treatment that you might find useful as well: www.preventcancerinfections.org.
Pamela Bryant is a health communications specialist at CDC in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity where she manages communication projects and initiatives for childhood and adult obesity prevention. Prior to joining CDC in 2007, Pamela managed offices of public affairs and communications at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. She has worked to promote research and scientific investigations of faculty in public health, pharmaceutical sciences, environmental sciences, physics, and other areas.
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