“Things are changing at our house… Mommy tells me the doctors found a lump in her breast,” writes Karyn Stowe in The Kids’ Guide to Mommy’s Breast Cancer.
Stowe wanted to give women an honest, but gentle, way to explain the disease to their young children; it’s the book she looked for but couldn’t find when she was diagnosed with the disease at age 37.
“When you come home from the hospital with a diagnosis of breast cancer you do not have the words to tell your children,” Stowe said. “Every time I tried to tell them, I’d burst into tears and that wasn’t helping anybody.”
So Stowe created her own homemade books with photos and simple descriptions to convey to her three children, aged 2, 3 and 6 at the time, what was happening to their mom.
These simple books were the inspiration for the guide she eventually wrote and published with funding from Rethink Breast Cancer, a charity dedicated to educating and supporting young people affected by breast cancer.
The guide explains to kids what their mom is doing when she’s at the hospital (“medicine slowly drips down the I.V. tubes and into mommy”), what breast cancer is (“starts when cells, the tiny building blocks of our body don’t grow in the right way”) and what to expect (“she’ll have some days when she’ll feel well and other days when she won’t”).
Divided into four sections, it has information about each stage of treatment: “mommy has an operation”, “mommy starts chemo”, “mommy starts radiation” and “mommy is finished breast cancer treatments”, so that any woman can use the chapters that apply to their own situation. It also includes advice for parents on discussing the disease and a glossary of relevant medical terms.
It was important for Stowe that the book include illustrations that “provided realism without being scary. The drawings by Jason Thompson are based on photographs by Chris Gordaneer of actual treatments, yet the tender-hearted, animated illustrations spare them from the stark reality.
The reaction to the book has been overwhelmingly positive since its publication earlier this year. Stowe said she’s heard some very heartwarming stories of children who ask to read it every night to help them understand and others who feel very proud to explain everything they know about mommy’s breast cancer.
“It was a very emotional book to write in many ways.” Stowe said. “I am thankful that there is a resource available to young families and yet I wish no one would ever need this book again. I know the road they travel and it’s not easy. No matter what book or resource you have, these conversations are difficult.” She encourages parents to be gentle with themselves and to remember that kids are very resilient.
Ann Douglas, mother of four and author of The Mother of all Parenting Books agrees with her that children are more resilient than we sometimes give them credit for and stresses the importance of talking openly with them.
“Kids pick up on what’s going on around them and can imagine far worse situations,” Douglas says. “They will feel safer and cope better if they can talk about it and you can answer honestly with age-appropriate information.”
Douglas also recommends waiting until you have all the facts before initiating a conversation, having a plan of action and relaying the information through a message of hope.
The Kids’ Guide to Mommy’s Breast Cancer is available through Rethink Breast Cancer and at most online booksellers.
For more information visit www.thekidsguidetocancer.com.
More books about cancer
Children’s books can be a valuable resource to help navigate difficult conversations. Here are some suggestions:
You Are the Best Medicine by Julie Aiger Clark
Brushing Mom’s Hair by Nicole Wong and Andrea Cheng
Ages 9 and Up
Where’s Mom’s Hair? A Family’s Journey through Cancer by Debbie Watters.
Parenting with Wit and Wisdom in Times of Chaos and Loss by Barbara Coloroso
Best-selling author Coloroso shares her own experiences of having a child diagnosed with cancer along with the experiences of others to offer a balanced, sensitive and intelligent approach to dealing with crises both big and small. Coloroso extols the principle of the T.A.O. of Family, which represents:
Time: “Kids need some of our time every day in the good times. They need that time even more in the rough times. It’s not necessarily a lot of time – just some to know that they are listened to, cared for, and are important to us.”
Affection: “Our children need a smile, a hug, and humour every day.”
Optimism: “It is the ability to go through a long night of grief, get up in the morning, make breakfast for our children, and affirm to them that all of us can make it through this.”