How to Juggle Cancer and Parenting: Roxanne Haller’s Story
|Age at diagnosis: 28||Diagnosis Date: Feb 2006|
|Type of Cancer: Breast cancer – Right Breast Metaplastic
Carcinoma with transitions to spindle cells.
|stage at diagnosis: Stage 1|
|Treatment Plan: Lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation||Current Status: Cancer Free!!!!|
How did you tell your kids about the cancer diagnosis?
Because my husband’s grandmother of cancer had died just 2 months prior, and my son had a difficult time with her death, we were very reluctant to tell him I had ‘cancer’ at first. We initially told him that Mommy had some very bad germs in her ‘chi chi’ and (because originally I was told I needed to have a mastectomy) we told him that the doctor was going to have to remove my ‘chi chi’ to get rid of the germs. That changed and I had lumpectomy instead.
We told him that Mommy needed to take some strong medicine that was going to make her very sick and tired, but through it all, no matter what, I still loved him. I was going to need lots of help taking care of him, and that I needed him to help take care of me sometimes. We also shared a book with him called ‘Mommy has cancer’.
How did your kids respond?
My son is very empathetic. He was very in tune with my emotions and could sense when I was sad or sick and would hug and love on me. He did at first check inside of my shirt to see if my breasts were still there. We tried to not tell him ever that mommy might die, so as not to worry him about that. But, we did want him to understand the seriousness and that I would be very sick.
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?
My parents went through a divorce at the time of my treatment, so my mother came to live with me. It was wonderful to have another adult in the house to help with the burdens of keeping house and taking care of a toddler. I realize not everyone has this option, but essentially, I think we need to ask for help and allow people to help. We have to be a little selfish and take care of ourselves. If we don’t take care of our own health and mental well being, we are not able to be there wholly for our children. I did one thing that I am so glad I did. I had photographs taken of my son kissing my bald head. It is a physical reminder for us all to cherish every day. I also feel that it was a lesson to my son (and myself) that we are not our appearances. We shouldn’t judge people by the way they look because you don’t know what they are enduring.
Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
I have no regrets about my journey with cancer, ultimately it has been a tremendous blessing in my life. It taught me a lifetime of lessons of faith, strength and love.
How did the impact of cancer change as time passed, and your children grew? Did it change?
I am well now, and have been blessed with another child. However, my son who was 3 when I was diagnosed is now 10. He does ask questions and seems concerned whenever I go to the doctor or have routine scans or mammograms. I try not to worry him, but ask him to pray for me. Cancer allowed faith into our family. God had not been a part of our daily lives, in fact I avoided the mention of ‘God’ at all cost before cancer. I didn’t want my son to have such ‘fairy tales’ shoved down his throat. But, cancer was a pathway to Christ for our family. It has changed the way I parent, and the wife that I am. And, has allowed us all to examine the purpose in our lives.
Do you have concerns about the long term impact of your cancer on your children?
Yes. I guess I feel SLIGHTLY less concerned in that I have male children. I realize they do have an increased risk for breast cancer, but I also worry about their overall cancer risk.
What advice would you give to other moms who are diagnosed with cancer?
Have faith, take care of yourself, allow others to help you. Let go of the idea of the perfect house and perfect parenting. You can only be a parent if you are alive to do it…so take care of your health. Find people you trust, whether through churches or schools whom you trust to help you take care of your children when you aren’t well enough. Be honest with your children, but try not to burden them with adult worries.
What concerns or fears troubled you the most?
At first, I was so worried about what my son would do without a mother, and that I would financially devastate my family. I was worried that my husband would have problems with my new body.
How did you deal with those fears?
Ultimately, I found a faith that allowed me to lay those problems at the feet of Jesus. It allowed me freedom from many of those worries and a focus on getting well. My husband was very supportive and my worries became unfounded. Friends blessed me by having benefits in my honor to help with the financial burdens.
Have those fears and concerns changed over time?
Yes. I now have another baby. I worry that something will happen to my husband and that I will fall ill and my children will be left without parents.
What was your darkest moment?
My darkest moment was the day I was diagnosed. I had suffered a miscarriage 2 1/2 months prior. My primary focus was having another child. When the surgeon told me I had cancer and I asked her if I would ever have another baby, she hesitated and said, ‘not for a very long time.’ I asked her if I was going to die, she told me not if we treated this very quickly and aggressively.
That day, my friends came over. I felt like I was numb, and that the world was happening around me while I was stuck in a nightmare. People were crying and cleaning my house around me. I felt like I was at my own wake.
What was your best moment?
Easy…accepting the Lord, Jesus Christ as my savior. Calling on him in my most desperate time to heal me, to take my cancer, my fear and my anxiety. And he responded with an inexplicable peace.
Did you decide to add more children to your family after your diagnosis? How did cancer figure into your decision?
No one highly recommended that I have more children, although my cancer was hormone negative. I did look into freezing eggs before I started treatment, but ultimately decided we couldn’t afford it. I did look into some clinical studies and found that taking Zoladex, even though I was triple negative, was found to preserve ovarian function in most women under 40. So, after being refused the zoladex by my oncologist, I sought the help of my gynecologist who did give me the zoladex treatments. It put me into menopause for the time of my treatment. 2 months after stopping the Zoladex, my cycles returned. And after about 3 years, my husband and I stopped trying to avoid pregnancy. I became pregnant 4 years after my diagnosis.
What did you do to take care of you? How did you splurge on yourself?
Baths and naps. I bought myself scarfs and wigs (although rarely wore them) and also, relatives sent me money to do what I wanted with them, so I treated myself to some comfortable pajamas.
Was it difficult to ask for help? Do you have any suggestions around the topic of asking for help?
You just have to suck up your pride, and take people up on their offers to help. People feel out of control quite often, but want to do something. I usually just asked people to pray for me, or to just visit with me.
Did you have an online resource that helped you through this experience?
Hands down, most valuable was the Young Survival Coalition at www.youngsurvival.org
Did cancer/treatment impact your relationship with your spouse/partner?
Yes, it taught us to prioritize our lives. It made us closer and tighter and stronger and put us on the same page spiritually. I felt very guilty at the beginning. I kept apologizing to my husband that he didn’t sign up for the one boobed bald headed wife. But, he loves me and that shone through.
Do you have any relationship advice for young moms dealing with cancer?
Be honest about your feelings, and allow your spouse to be honest about theirs. This is difficult for all of us and they are going through it too. I often felt like it was harder for my husband, because at least I felt like I was doing something about it. He just had to stand by…he felt that he had to hide his emotions and fear and be the rock for me.
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?
I wish the people would not send me information that suggests that I might have caused my cancer by some behavior. I wish that people would understand that stress causes a breeding ground for cancer and that I don’t want to deal with other people’s drama. I would tell other friends and family to help…out of love, not control, to not tell the patient that it’s all in their mind. I would tell them to pray for and with the person suffering and remind them how much they are loved. I would tell them that no matter how many people there are supporting them, the patient often feels alone, and that no one truly understands what they are going through. Allow them that feeling, but remind them that you are there for them if they need to talk. Allow them to complain. It sucks, it’s sickening, it’s painful at times, its terrifying. Don’t try to rob them of their right to their fears and pain. Don’t tell them about everyone you know who died of cancer. Don’t pretend to know everything about their 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?
Reach to recovery was helpful initially, but really just building one on one relationships with other YOUNG survivors and really making connections with other women with same concerns. I began speaking at events, such as Making Strides Against Breast Cancer also sharing at churches and with other people in waiting rooms etc.
Are there any resources that you recommend?
I didn’t use, but highly recommend The Pink Daisy Project, Young Survival Coalition, American Cancer Society. My favorite book was “Love, Medicine and Miracles” by Bernie Siegel and also Mommy has Cancer, can’t remember the author.
What are some solutions you found to practical problems of combining cancer treatment with raising young children?
I was blessed with an incredible support system. The problems I had were more my own. I had to learn to accept ‘good enough’. I had to learn to sometimes put myself first, and allow my husband to just be a father the way he wanted to…to be the primary care taker. It was also very important to me that I did not promise my son that I would not die, as that was a possibility. What I wanted him to know was that I would love him no matter what. So, I started telling him that ‘I love you all the time.’ I told him I loved him no matter where I was, or where he was, no matter what the time of day, whether we were young or old, or whether he could see me or not.
You can find more on the How to Juggle Cancer and Parenting Series here: