How to Juggle Cancer and Parenting: Janna Thompson’s Story

Janna Thompson

Janna Thompson

Age at diagnosis: 37 Diagnosis Date: June 6, 2012
Type of Cancer: Stage II right breast cancer.
2 out of 15 nodes +. TNBC, BRCA1+
Stage at Diagnosis: Stage 2
Treatment Plan: Have gone through surgery,
chemo (6 rounds of TAC). Radiation and more surgery to follow

Janna Thompson

How did you tell your kids about the cancer diagnosis?
We were very up front with our girls. We used a book to show them what we were talking about. We were honest about all of the treatments and surgery. It was horrible for a few days… but it made it a lot less scary for them when each step occurred. The teenager was actually a little more difficult… she hears cancer and automatically thinks death. It took lots of sit down talks with her

How did your kids respond?
The little ones cried the most when I told them I was going to lose my hair. I had very long thick hair and one of their favorite things to do was play with it and style it. The teenager sobbed off and on for days…. and again when we hit any of the numerous “bumps” in the road

What are some things you did that worked really well for your family with regards to dealing with the cancer, and treatment, while raising children?
We involved the little ones as much as they wanted to be involved. We had a head shaving party and they got to shave it with clippers. They wanted to be involved with dressings and drains too so we involved them as much as possible. Let them pick out scarves.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Not really. I do not regret for a day being as open and honest as we were

How did the impact of cancer change as time passed, and your children grew? Did it change?
I am still in treatment so a tough one to answer. I have had multiple complications with wound healing and have had 4 hospitalizations. Those are tough on the girls because usually Mommy is always there

Do you have concerns about the long term impact of your cancer on your children?
None… other than the fact that I am BRCA1+ which means they could be as well. Me having breast cancer has turned them into amazing, compassionate, strong girls

What advice would you give to other moms who are diagnosed with cancer?
Be as honest as possible. Kids are amazing, adaptive little people. They will read things off of you. If you are open about it, they will normally be open about their feelings. I would tell my girls when I was afraid of something and would at times cry in front of them. This showed them that it was okay to be afraid and cry. Although, I kept my major meltdowns for behind closed doors

What concerns or fears troubled you the most?
Recurrence or my children having the gene

How did you deal with those fears?
One day at a time… it’s all you can do

Have those fears and concerns changed over time?

What was your darkest moment?
Leaving my family vacation to be hospitalized…. also leaving from the hospital where my daughter had pretty significant surgery to go directly to another hospital to be admitted for almost a week

What was your best moment?
When I see my kids brag about their mom. when they tell me that I’m beautiful bald and shouldn’t wear anything on my head. My 6 year old chose me for “hero day” at school. I am in the Army Reserves… she asked me to come to her presentation bald with my uniform on. She cried when I walked it she was so excited to share me with her friends and teachers.

Do you have suggestions for other women considering a post- cancer treatment pregnancy, surrogacy, or adoption?
I had a prophylactic total hysterectomy 4 months prior to diagnosis. So, unfortunately I have no recommendations

What did you do to take care of you? How did you splurge on yourself?
Taking care of me has been the biggest struggle. I allow myself time to cry and cope with everything going around. I allow alot more time snuggling with my girls.

Were you able to get help from friends and family members while you were going through treatment?
Somewhat. I don’t have much family in the area, but I had a few friends that were absolutely amazing during treatment

Was it difficult to ask for help? Do you have any suggestions around the topic of asking for help?
Like many women I am my own worst enemy in asking for help. I am a nurse which makes it worse. I am also in the military so am used to being completely independent. My husband, family, and friends stopped waiting for me to ask for help. They just showed up when they knew things were rough. I knew if I told them I didn’t know how I was going to do something…. one of them would be right there

Did you have an online resource that helped you through this experience?
Facebook YSC page was great. American cancer society. I had a case manager through my insurance with a direct line and email

Did cancer/treatment impact your relationship with your spouse/partner?
Yes. Although we have an amazing relationship and have managed to make the necessary changes to our relationship to make it as great as possible under the circumstances

Do you have any relationship advice for young moms dealing with cancer?
Let him see you cry. Let him know that it is ok for him to cry. I have been on both sides of the fence… having cancer and watching a person I love go through it. At times I do not know which is worse. Be as open and honest as possible. Try and laugh about it some of the quirky side effects etc. Laughter is amazing medicine and lets your partner know that it’s okay to laugh

What is something you wish your friends and family members understood about your cancer and its impact on your life? What would you tell the friends and family members of other mom’s diagnosed with cancer? What would you want them to know about what she’s about to go through, and how best they can support her?
One of the biggest things for me was….. Just because I manage to look good (make up, jewelry and a smile) that does NOT mean that I don’t feel miserable. The little things mean a lot… a random text just to say hi. stopping in for coffee, laugh with your loved one… its really ok. Also remember…. despite having cancer and the many changes that go with treatment…. they are still the same person. Try to support, but don’t make life revolve around cancer

Were there any cancer-related activities or events in which you participated that you think were especially helpful to you or members of your family?
I signed up for Making Strides within a few weeks of being diagnosed. It made me feel somewhat in control. It also gave me as well as my family and friends something to focus on. It was an amazing experience

Are there any resources that you recommend?
Cleaning for a Reason
Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook: Understanding the Disease, Treatments, Emotions, and Recovery from Breast Cancer by Judy Kneece. She also writes an amazing partner handbook. Easy to read and great illustrations that you can use for kids

What are some solutions you found to practical problems of combining cancer treatment with raising young children?
I usually bribed with a special snack or extra snuggle time with Mommy. The snuggle time was the big seller. I also praised them continually when they were really good or did extra stuff to be helpful. It empowered them to feel that they had some control over things… and were helping mommy heal.

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You can find more on the How to Juggle Cancer and Parenting Series here:

manage cancer and parenting

Seattle writer, Judy Schwartz Haley, blogs about raising a toddler while battling cancer, finishing a degree, and fending off ninjas. Also, she needs more coffee.
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