This morning I heard the story of Aleisha Hunter, who was diagnosed with Breast Cancer when she was three years old. I had to rush right home to hug my baby.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I understood that my daughter’s risk for developing cancer was increased, but it didn’t occur to me that she could develop it as a toddler.
That’s an odd thing for me to say; since my diagnosis, I have been drumming in to my friends and neighbors, and everyone with whom I interact online, that no one is too young to get breast cancer. I tell people not to let a doctor, or anyone else, be dismissive of a breast lump or discomfort, or suggest it couldn’t be cancer because of your age. It was easy for me to say a 20-year-old is not too young to get breast cancer, but my mind did not allow me to extend that caution to toddlers.
I spend a lot of time thinking about this diagnosis and how to manage the fear, particularly in reference to my daughter. How do I teach her to live her life at full speed, while still teaching her to take care. I don’t want to teach her to be fearful; I don’t want her to live a life of timidity and fear. On the other hand, I don’t want her to be dismissive of danger. Where do you find that balance? I have thought about teaching her to do breast exams, but the time frame I had in mind was a whole lot closer to puberty. Actually, that probably still wont change. But I want to find ways of discussing breast cancer and breast exams, not as a way of looking for a monster that is to be feared, but just a part of self care, like putting on a seat belt when you get in the car, not an anxious event, but one you wouldn’t overlook either.
But, as in other aspects of parenting, I think the best way to teach her to not let fear take control, to teach her to balance boldness with prudence, is to be a good example.
I’m nearly done with treatment. I have two weeks left of radiation and then six months herceptin and then I just get on with my life, hoping the beast does not return. I can’t say it will be back to life as usual, because post-cancer life involves a bit of looking back over your shoulder. Post-cancer life means scans every six months to see if the cancer is regrouping for another attack. Post-cancer life means every ache and pain takes on a new meaning, it means asking “Am I being a hypochondriac, or would ignoring this ache be irresponsible?” It means paying extra attention to what lawmakers are doing – will their actions restrict my access to insurance or health care? Heightened awareness is a necessity. The trick, it seems, is to find a way to prevent that focus and attention from becoming a fixation and translating into fear.
And I’ve got to figure this out quick, because I have a little girl watching my every move.
My heart goes out to Aleisha, and her family. She underwent a full mastectomy, inluding lymph node disection, and is expected to make a full recovery. Thinking ahead to those awkward years of puberty and breast development, I hope she is able to develop and maintain a strong and healthy body image, and that she too finds a way to balance boldness with prudence.
I also hope that by spreading this story we can help save more lives. Breast cancer is not a disease of the aged, it can strike at any time. Please check your boobies.