I Didn't Tell My Kids I Had Breast Cancer

Kara Passante
Kara Passante and her two little girls now
For Kara Passante, everything seemed to be going just right at 29. She was married to the love of her life. She'd just given birth to the second of two beautiful little girls. And then came the diagnosis. Stage three breast cancer. At 29. Suddenly the mother of two had a lot of decisions to make. Among them? What would she tell her kids about her illness? Would she tell them at all?

Little Isabelle, at just 7 months, wouldn't understand anyway. But at 2 1/2, Roz was already smart and highly aware of the world around her. And that's why Kara decided not to tell her kids she had breast cancer. This strong mama is now in remission, and she explained her decision to The Stir to help other moms in her boat figure out how to navigate this treacherous path:


On talking to her husband about whether they'd tell their daughters:

Craig and I did not exactly 'discuss' telling Roz (Isabelle was obviously too young to talk to!) about my situation, because I DEMANDED that unless she brought it up, we were not discussing it with her. Roz is a very intuitive, sensitive child, and even at 2 1/2, I knew that it would be putting worry on her if we tried to tell her, "Mommy is sick."

So we did not bring it up. And if she ever commented on why Daddy was putting her to bed instead of Mommy, the answer was honest, without details: "Mommy's really, really tired tonight!"

On her biggest fear when it came to talking about her cancer with her daughter:

My biggest fears with Roz were and still are that she will worry about me, and worry that she too will get sick. She once asked me about my medi-port in my chest and why it was there. I told her it was a place that doctors used to use to give me medicine. She looked nervous and asked if she had to get medicine like that too. That turned my stomach, and just having to reassure her about it at all was upsetting enough for me.

On how her kids dealt with a sick Mommy:

Roz rolled with pretty much everything we told her when she would bring something up (with the exception of what I said earlier). Again, we kept things very simple without all out lying to her.

On life now that she's in remission and working to support breast cancer causes:

A few days ago, Craig put two magnet breast cancer awareness ribbons on either side of my car. Roz asked me what they were for. I honestly didn't know what to say at first. I thought about it, and told her that there is a sickness called cancer, and I had it once, but I don't anymore, and that the magnet shows that we are trying to teach people about the disease.

She then said, "What did you say it was? Can-cer?" Just hearing her say the word made me both nauseated and furious, I have to be honest. But I didn't make a big deal out of it and just started talking about something else!

On what she would say to other moms debating whether to tell their kids about their cancer:

My advice may not be the best if we're dealing with the type of mom who insists on being 100 percent not just honest, but open, about every single thing. And there is nothing wrong with that mom and her ways! I openly admit I am not one of them!

I feel I was trying to protect my daughters from something that I couldn't give very reassuring answers to, since I didn't have all the answers myself. Had I been at an earlier diagnosis, where the statistics were more in my favor ... maybe I would have felt more confident elaborating a bit more.

But overall, I think a mother and/or father simply have to follow their gut and common sense. I don't believe any child deserves to worry that their parent may or may not die. They have their whole lives to grow up and face the harsh reality of life and death. But if we can sugarcoat their fears with a bit of vagueness ... I'm all for it!

Have you or someone you love been in Kara's situation? How did you talk to your kids about it? Any advice for other moms?


Image via Kara Passante

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