My sons were too young to understand cancer when I was diagnosed in 2009. Just little sprouts, barely 3 and 5 years old, and since I didn’t have chemo to peg me as a cancer patient, I didn’t tell them. There seemed no point. I was able to spare them, really myself, the horrible task of talking about Mommy being sick. I simply headed for surgery with a hug and a promise that what was broken inside me was about to be fixed.
Two young boys didn’t question and in a jaunty sort of way (not really), I went off to have a bilateral mastectomy. Despite several stealthy follow up reconstructive surgeries and regularly scheduled visits to my oncologist, nearly 7 years have passed and my sons still don’t know.
In my house, breast cancer is a big secret.
I’m not looking to debate the rights and wrongs of denying my sons this knowledge. I figure, at some point, one way or another when I’m ready, this secret will make itself known. I only pray it’s not because there’s a recurrence to discuss.
But, in the meantime, as many other parents probably do, I spend a great deal of time arguing with my youngest.
He’s now 9 years old. He’s smart, loves a bad joke, crafty in a good way, and has a gigantic, loving heart. He’ll go out of his way to pave an easier path for someone in need. He thinks he’s lucky. He says he has a good life, a nice home and loves his family and I soooo, so love that about him.
As many positive things there are to love about this boy, there’s this one thing…He will argue with me at the drop of a hat. About absolutely anything, anywhere, any time. Doesn’t matter what I say– The sky is not blue and I can’t prove it.
I don’t know why this is, why we butt heads so fiercely every morning and every night and most moments in between. Honestly, it’s a total drag. Thankfully, he’s not like this in school or I’d be facing a larger problem, but he’s good there. “He’s a pleasant addition to the classroom.”
That’s nice. He saves it all for me. And perhaps, that’s it. I’m an easy target, the easiest. I love him unconditionally and he knows that. He understands no matter how ugly the fighting gets, how much he argues, how much he blatantly ignores what I say…It’s all fine because I’m not going anywhere.
I’m his biggest supporter, his biggest fan. He believes, as any 9 year old should, that I will forever stand by his side cheering him on. Ultimately, he knows no matter what, I will aways love him…and that’s true, but I’m human and I’ve seen enough of life to grasp how fragile it is, how painfully short it is. How at risk I am for this crap called breast cancer to reappear and take me away from him.
And then what?
Will he look back on these turmoil-filled days with regret? Will he wish he’d been nicer to the one that loved him the most?
I don’t know. I hope not. There’s no need for guilt here. I know he loves me. It’s not his intention to be argumentative, disrespectful, and even bratty. It’s less about me than it is about him, growing, testing his wings.
But, I have to wonder on mornings such as this when he climbs the bus steps with barely a goodbye…what if he knew? Would it make a difference? Would he be more agreeable because his mother may not always be here?
Would he appreciate our time more?
Actually, I doubt it and that’s fine. Death is a scary, difficult topic for a young boy–for anyone. He shouldn’t have to understand or worry about it. I want him as far from it as possible for as long as possible. It will find him eventually. As it finds all of us.
None of us ever escape the loss of someone we love. It’s just a part of life. As are the arguments between mothers and sons, even when their secrets aren’t as big as mine.
9 thoughts on “Secrets and Sons”
Oh, Stacey, I simply love this post. It so resonates with me, who hasn't given details to my 7-year-old daughter and know one day I will but have no idea when. She has already noticed the scars from my bilateral mastectomy and brought them to my attention. I also wonder if my truth-telling will be initiated by a recurrence and hope not. It's so difficult to tell our kids. Cancer is such a secret we try to hold for their sakes. I know I will tell my daughter when she's old enough to process it all. Should you tell your sons, I know you will know the right time for this. Great post. So glad you are back in the blogosphere.
Stacey, I think your boys are lucky not to have been burdened with this knowledge so far. Children have enough boogeymen and scary things to deal with without knowing about the big bad monster that was inside their mommy's body. I hope it stays that way for all of you. xxoo, Kathi
Hi Stacey,The decision to tell kids and how much to tell them is a very personal one. Your boys were so young when you were diagnosed. As you know, mine were older and it was still really hard. Sometimes it still is. You will tell them when the time is right. Thank you for writing about an important topic. And btw, I enjoyed reading about your youngest son's spirited side. Don't you just love how each child is such a unique personality?
Hi Beth! As I wrote on FB, I didn't realize your daughter didn't know, but right, she's only 7 now, so how could she? You get this post. I love that you write we hold the secret for their sake. I suppose that's true. I think I've been keeping secret for my sake. Who wants to talk about it with their kids and if I don't have to yet..well, then I won't. Like you, so hope it's not a recurrence that brings it out. So hope that for you and me. Thanks for writing! xoxo
Kathi, thank you for saying my boys are lucky not to have been burdened with this. I think you're right. There's always guilt associated with keeping any kind of secret. I have to wonder if they'd be better off knowing, is it unfair, but ultimately, I agree with you. There's time enough. xoxo
Hi Nancy! Thanks for reminding me about your children and that sharing breast cancer with older children isn't any easier and maybe it's even harder. Maybe they understand too much, which would bring about a lot of fear. No one wants their kids to carry that around, especially about their moms. I don't want my guys to worry about me that way and I'm guessing you don't want your children to feel that way either. Don't even get me started on whether or not I had those worries about my mom! Probably, but that's for another post! Thanks for reading and your kind outlook about my son's \”spirited\” side. Good word for it! xoxo
Stacey, thanks for a thought-provoking blog. Wow, it's hard enough for an adult child to live with the fear and worry that accompany a mother's cancer diagnosis. I'm glad you let your guys exist in the impermeable bubble of childhood for as long as possible. Allowing it all to stay pure–even if Mr. Obstinate is making you crazy with frustration–is an immeasurable gift to them. We all have our regrets about our relationships with our mom, especially during those tumultuous adolescent years. It wasn't until I had a thirteen year-old that I longed to apologize to my mom for those awful, moody days–and I regretted that it was much too late. So I live with the vague sense of guilt–even though she didn't yet have cancer when I was being a miserable 13 year-old–but also with the certainty that all was long since forgiven. I so hope that I'll be around when my boys have thirteen year-olds of their own. But no matter what, they'll figure out–as I did–that moms love us unconditionally, far more on our worst days than anyone else in the world on our best days.
Stay strong…Because sometimes things need to be hidden .
Hi Stacey! I noticed your blog and I greatly appreciate the stories you are willing to share with others. My name is Ryan and I’m currently a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI working on a project called CancerEd. My team and I are developing curriculum materials to teach children about cancer in an interactive but scientifically accurate way. We are looking to send out a survey to parents who have had cancer to better understand why or why not they communicate with their children about cancer and we would love your help with this! If you could email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to give you more information about the survey and about our project. Hope to hear from you soon! Thanks!