I’ll never forget the phone call in which my mother-in-law, Rosemary, called to tell me she had breast cancer. Weeks leading up to this official diagnosis had us all believing it would be something benign just like it had been years and years prior. I was on my way to look at a new home with my realtor when she called. As soon as I picked up the call, she just sounded different. I was stunned and my first thoughts went from How will we tell Jon (he was at work) and what do we tell the kids? How much do we tell the kids?
Rosemary is not a distant grandma that my kids only see for major holidays. She lived just down the street and was one of the primary caregivers to both Aubrey and Luke when they were little while I was at work. She watched them 2 days a week (Aubrey up until she went to school, and then at that time she began watching Luke). I knew that her treatment would cause drastic changes in how often we saw her, and it would last long enough to raise some questions about where she was all the time.
Aubrey & Manna at her first birthday. Photo by Becca Rillo Photography (2012)
Allstate’s mission is to protect people from life’s uncertainties and help them realize their hopes and dreams. They have provided The Silver Lining Companion as a free download through their website. It is written for the patient going through the breast cancer diagnosis, but the information provided helps more than just that individual. It highlights a section for children in particular and how helpful this would have been last fall for us.
With kids, with any topic, it is always best to let them guide the question & discussion since we, as adults, could potentially over-share and over-explain what is going on. When we first told Aubrey (and Luke), we told them that Manna (what they call Rosemary) was sick and going to the doctors. She would be sick for awhile, and while we might not see her as much, she still loves all of us and we will see her when we can. Once she had her surgery, we knew that physical changes were going to occur – not in the sense we think of with looks, but actions. She was unable to accept big hugs and we had to tell Aubrey that she had some boo-boos.
Aubrey is a very smart and caring child. Often when I pick her up from school, she shares which of her friends was sick, or which had returned to school from being sick. Teachers and other parents have commented on how she often rushes to the side of a hurt friend to give them a hug. I knew that if she saw Manna not feeling well, she’d rush to give her a big hug as well. We explained often how Manna has these boo-boos and we have to be very gentle. We can still give her hugs, but we have to hug her legs or give her a kiss on her hand.
Manna helping Luke look for Easter eggs (2014)
One of the biggest transformations I knew that was coming would be when Chemo started and Rosemary would start losing her hair. She had already decided to purchase a wig that resembled her current hair style – but I knew there would be times she would be wearing a scarf or hat instead. When she did start losing hair, Rosemary decided to have the family over for dinner and would have her daughter help to shave her head. We brought the kids over and we all had fun running around and playing. When the time to shave her head came, Jon and I both decided to have the kids leave. I didn’t know if they would ask questions, or wonder what was going on. But as parents, we have choices that often have to be made to limit the amount of change they experience when they’re so young.
Aubrey never really seemed to question the change of hair style or the beautiful scarves she would wear from time to time. She would say how pretty it was, and comment on the hats that had sparkly brooches attached. Kids are very observant, but not always in the direct ways we might assume as adults. I learned to let Aubrey lead and just answer the questions she had. That was one of the biggest takeaways that was confirmed in the Silver Lining book.
Rosemary finished chemo this spring and at one of our family dinners, it was the first time she donned her new do. Neither Aubrey or Luke asked where her blonde hair was, or where her sparkly brooches were. They saw their Manna smiling & happy. And most importantly, healthy.
Photo by Megan Hayes Photography
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.