Telling My Children I Have Lung Cancer
Wednesday, July 5th at approximately 2:00 pm my life took a dramatic turn as I stepped out from the Lazy River at Six Flags Great Adventure. It was such a beautiful day after a great night of watching the July 4th fireworks over the Hudson River. I had the day off of work and took my 10-year old twin sons to a friend's birthday party at Hurricane Harbor, Six Flags.
My knee pain was something more...
Rewinding to the prior week, I was sitting in my primary care doctor's office after going back and forth for a year with excruciating knee pain in both my knees and being sent home with instructions to take ibuprofen, that I am not getting any younger, it is joint pain. I will save the details on how I was finally sent for a chest x-ray for another time, but I finally got a referral for one to rule out rheumatoid arthritis. Although the doctor knew I had a family history of lung cancer, he shrugged it off as all my family members who had lung cancer were diagnosed in their late 60's and I was in my early 40's. I was guilty of the same mindset at the time, I thought it was bone bruises that were not healing from a bad fall I took the year before. Never did I connect my knee pain to lung cancer.
Getting the call from my doctor
I remember getting out of the water with such a relaxed feeling, never expecting my life to change in an NYC minute. As I returned to my lounge chair, I passed my twins and the other children playing and life was good, joy was in my heart. As I was getting ready to lay back in my chair, I noticed the message light on my cell phone. I retrieved a message from my doctor to please call him back, my results were in. I was quite surprised to get the call on the day after the Independence Day holiday, but I wasn't worried and wasn't expecting to hear anything that would give me answers to my knee pain.
"Mrs. Brenes, I am so sorry to tell you that you have a large tumor in the middle lobe of your right lung."
In complete shock
My mind and body froze and then everything felt like it was in slow motion, happening outside my body. How can that be, I thought. My mom just passed from lung cancer...and I had the same cancer growing in me at the same time? My maternal grandfather and his brother and sister also died of lung cancer, I cannot be next. I am a single mother with no relatives around. My children’s father is out of the picture and his family lives in Costa Rica. My children didn’t know them, they were infants when we were last there. As these thoughts flashed through my mind, I turned my attention back to my doctor who was telling me it looks operable, to call him the following day to set up a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed non-small cell adenocarcinoma and the subsequent scans and MRI’s led the doctors to believe it was indeed operable.
Breaking the news to my children
The hardest part, to this day, was telling my boys, who just witnessed their grandmother’s passing from lung cancer. I spoke to their guidance counselor who told me it is best to be honest without scaring them or making promises I don’t know that I can keep. She also told me that in challenging situations, children usually only ask questions they can handle the answers to, and to let them take the lead.
When they got home from school, I sat them down and said that I have some news that may sound scary but it is something I can handle and deal with. I told them I have lung cancer. One twin started to cry and the other twin asked if I was going to die like Grandma. I answered that I am younger and stronger than Grandma was, I do not have asthma as Grandma did and the doctors feel that I will be okay after an operation. Just as the guidance counselor said, that was the limit of what they could handle and they didn’t ask any more questions at that time.
Read Part II of Telling My Children I Have Lung Cancer.
Are you raising children during your lung cancer journey?