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Discuss cancer with kids?

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May 27, 2003

By Dr. Max Gomez

If you're a mom with breast cancer, how do you tell your kids? Breast cancer can be a deadly disease that usually strikes post-menopausal women, but an increasing number are women with young children. Should you tell your kids about your breast cancer, how much do you tell them, will it scar them for life? 

"I found a lump. I felt something, it felt big, and i went to the doctor and it was positive," said breast cancer survivor Robin Kirsch.

It happens to a woman in this country more than 210,000 times each year, and while the diagnosis of breast cancer is frightening and difficult for any woman, it's all the more complicated when you're someone like Robin Kirsch, a woman with young children.

"My first reaction was, don't tell the kids, you know. Let’s protect them. Let’s keep this from them. But it was life. It’s like a metaphor for life. Not everything is good."

At the time Samantha and Spencer were just six and nine, and there were no manuals or kits to help Robin and her husband explain a scary part of life to a couple of young girls who, like most kids, thought their parents would always be there.

"She didn't say first that it was cancer. She just said she I’m sick and later on she said it was cancer," said 9-year-old daughter Samantha.

"I thought cancer was only that if you get it, you die, but then when my mom and dad explained it to me," said 12-year-old Spencer.

Turns out that, unfortunately, there are a lot of families in the same boat. Which meant a lot of calls for help to child life specialist Michelle Brauntuch, who quickly realized that there was a real need for a guide for parents.

Which led to an educational video, with real moms, dads and kids, who've actually been through the breast cancer experience. It offers guidelines, not recipes. "They will sense that something is going on in their family, children know that. And if you don't give them answers they will fill in the blanks themselves. And they are most afraid of what they aren't prepared for," said Brauntuch.

"In the end, your kids are a tremendous source of strength to you. You tell them and they become a part of it. They get involved, and they get you through," said Robin.

Talking to your Children about your Breast Cancer was produced with a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

It is available for a $15.00 donation to cover duplication and mailing costs.

posted at 10:30AM by dave.miller@walb.com

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