How to Juggle Cancer and Parenting: Cambria Dodd Russell’s Story

by | Parenting with Cancer, How to Juggle Cancer and Parenting

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series How to Juggle Cancer and Parenting
Age at diagnosis: 36Diagnosis Date: Sept 2010
Type of Cancer: Triple Negative Breast Cancer, locally advancedstage at diagnosis: Stage 3
Treatment Plan: Neo adjuvant chemo (Carboplatin, Taxol, Avastin, A/C),
bilateral mx, IMRT radiation
Current Status: NED

How did you tell your kids about the cancer diagnosis?

Stage by stage:
chemo: “I have cancer in my breast and need to take medicine to make the cancer go away. The medicine is called chemo.” “I’ll go to the doctor a lot and might get tired. You’ll still go to school everyday. We’ll have dinner together every night….”
surgery: “My doctor is going to take the cancer away in a surgery. When I come home, I’ll be sore and have boo-boos.” We practiced ways we could hug and snuggle that wouldn’t involve my chest – hand hugs, leg hugs, finger hugs.
radiation: “I have to go to radiation every day. Radiation is a lot like having an x-ray. Remember when you had an x-ray after….”

"We practiced ways we could hug and snuggle that wouldn't involve my chest - hand hugs, finger hugs, leg hugs."
Cambria Dodd Russell

How did your kids respond?

My kids were young enough that they didn’t associate cancer with death. They took it in stride and asked many questions along the way. We answered them all honestly. Sometimes they complained that I didn’t always go to swim class with them or other things that they were used to. Sometimes they worried about me, tried to take care of me by getting blankets or food for me. Mostly, they just went about their normal routines.

I think that surgery was the hardest for them. At diagnosis, I had just stopped nursing my 2 year old. He was still quite attached to my breasts. When I showed the kids my scars, he said “no more babies can drink from there anymore. I don’t like it!” They have gotten used to my flat chest and scars now. My oldest even asked why all the mannequins at Victoria’s Secret have breasts. “Not all ladies have breasts!”

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?

honesty. I think my kids would have been more scared if they sensed things were different but didn’t know why. We also kept their daycare providers in the loop. We told them the exact language we were using to describe what was happening to me so they could use it too.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

In terms of the kids? No.

How did the impact of cancer change as time passed, and your children grew? Did it change?

My kids still talk about it some. They play “cancer.” One kid pretends to have cancer while the other pretends to be a friend bringing over food. They take care of each other and say things like, “I’m sorry you have cancer. Would you like a leg hug?” Occasionally, something dramatic happens. My oldest recently had a nightmare about a witch plucking out all of my eyebrows and eyelashes. Clearly, it has had an impact. We just keep talking about it.

Do you have concerns about the long term impact of your cancer on your children?

Yes. Long term, I worry about a recurrence, about dying, about leaving my husband with 2 boys to raise on his own. I hope though, that this was just another experience among many in their childhoods. It will, no doubt, impact them. I don’t want it to dominate them though.

What advice would you give to other moms who are diagnosed with cancer?

Tell your kids, talk about it, don’t hide it. Secrecy causes more fear.

What concerns or fears troubled you the most?

that my biological son will get cancer

How did you deal with those fears? 

deep breaths, reality checks

Did you decide to add more children to your family after your diagnosis? How did cancer figure into your decision?

We were already fostering our oldest at diagnosis. We have since adopted him. The process was a little more difficult because of cancer.

What did you do to take care of you? How did you splurge on yourself?

regular spa visits, acupuncture, many dates with friends and hubby for movies or tea, parties

Were you able to get help from friends and family members while you were going through treatment?

Yes. I practically demanded it. The day I was diagnosed I emailed about 100 people. I told them what was happening and that I would need them. My friends then set up committees and divided duties into categories: food, childcare, chemo buddies/medical appts, housekeeping. We used Lots of Helping Hands to keep everything organized. When I needed something, I just contacted the key person for the appropriate category and it materialized.

Was it difficult to ask for help? Do you have any suggestions around the topic of asking for help?

No. I knew that if I didn’t ask for help all of the burden would fall on my husband and mother.

Did you have an online resource that helped you through this experience?

YSC (Young Survival Coalition)

Did cancer/treatment impact your relationship with your spouse/partner?

Yes. I think we are even tighter than before although I didn’t think that was possible.

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

Series Navigation<< How to Juggle Cancer and Parenting
Judy Schwartz Haley


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