Children, Teens and Cancer

January 15, 2019

While celebrating Christmas this year, there was a moment that really surprised me. My youngest stepson said something about being sorry he wasn’t more help when I was going through cancer.

While celebrating Christmas this year, there was a moment that really surprised me. My youngest stepson said something about being sorry he wasn’t more help when I was going through cancer.

We were talking about the pictures I had been gathering to make photo albums for each of my children. We already shared some great laughs about moments I captured through the years. When we were a newly formed family after I married their father, and I found a particular tree near our house where we gathered annually to take a picture of them as they grew.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, only my younger son was still at home since he was still in high school. His comment about not being there for me was one he made before, many years ago. Now an adult with two almost-grown sons of his own, I was surprised he still thought about that time. But I also knew he had always been my sensitive child, easily hurt and fearful of what could happen in many circumstances.

I reassured him that it was in the past for me, and that I knew that it was really hard for him at 16 when he was trying to separate from the family to go to college.

As I thought about it more, I began to recall how absent he was during that time. We had always been able to talk easily, but when I was diagnosed, he became elusive. We would begin to talk and then he would get a glimpse of me without my wig and off he would go.

Each child handles cancer differently. His comment all these years later reminded me that people may still be concerned about events in the past. Their reactions will depend on age, temperament and individual ability to absorb what is happening. And then as children grow they may see something completely differently.

For example, my daughter — who was 1 year old when I was diagnosed – would ask age-appropriate questions as time went on. Because of my continued involvement in breast cancer even after treatment stopped, she grew up with knowledge of my diagnosis. I was made painfully aware of this when she was 9. One night in the bathtub out of nowhere she asked me if she was going to get breast cancer. I said she wouldn’t because by the time she would be old enough they would have a cure. Well, she is 33 now and it hasn’t happened yet.

We ended Christmas with my son reassured that there was no reason to feel he had let me down somehow, and a reminder to my daughter not to miss her breast self-exam.


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