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

breasts, cancer, a mom's life


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Christie Hill O'Sullivan

I totally get that. We didn't tell my kids (4 & 6) I had cervical cancer. I was prepared to if I needed to, but because it was treated and we seem to be in the clear, that time never came. They knew about the surgery when it was surgery day but I didn't want to make a big deal about it to them, we kept everything as normal as possible and now that i'm in the clear i'm glad i did that. we kept the language very simple - "mommy has a bump that the doctor has to take out," along those lines. they helped me in my recovery, but it was always about getting better from the surgery. my 6 year old is a big worrier and because we had talked about cancer in general before in relation to other people, I knew the idea of cancer really upset him and I just couldn't do that to him. he has a tendency to obsess over things. however, if it was getting worse and things weren't looking good, we might have made a different decision. I think we made the decision based on what we knew at the time and I am sure every case and every situation and every family is different, it's just one of those things where you have to weigh all of it and make the decision that's best for you.

eupeptic eupeptic

One thing that could (and maybe should) be said to kids is that if they eat broccoli every day (raw is best) they probably won't get cancer...

And I personally am not too big on giving people unrealistically high hopes (e.g., by sugar coating things) if that may lead to disappointment later on.

Yonde... Yondermama

As a child of a multiple cancer survior (my mother, my hero)  I will tell you that this is not always the best plan.  My mother was told not to tell my older brother and I at a young age (3 and 1 1/2 yr old) and both my brother and I have some serious issues with this.  We knew that our mother was sick even though no one told us.  My first memory is asking my father not to let my mommy die.

I have been in and out of therapy my young and adult life trying to work through the issue.  My brother has a fear that whom ever he loves hides things from him.  My mother emits that not telling us was a mistake now but at the time it was the best decision she and my father could make.  I understand that as a mother of a 5 yr old boy.  

I would recommend talking to your children when you think they are old enough to understand and listen to any questions or fears they may have.  Our parents are everything at that age and kids pick up on alot more than you could ever imagine.

Christine Karadontes

my mom had breast cancer when i was 13 yrs old she told us, my brother jimmy & I we didn"t realy understand @ that age. She even showed me the removed breast's....we went on like it was ok.... she went 2 every softball game every football game.... was the loudest most crazy parent with a cow bell....everyone in jeff knows the cow bell 2 this day...with her wig on & no eye brows... no matter ... not a cancer pt....just mickey karadontes...... loved by all......she could have told us or not .....no matter... just love your kids k... pray for u ..... christine

Cayla... CaylaChristine

My mother didn't tell me or my 3 younger brothers. She was lucky enough to have it caught very early on, so her reasoning was she didn't want to upset us or make us worry if it was unnecessary. I actually didn't find out until a few months ago that it was, indeed, cancer. I'm 21 now, I was 15 when she had it removed.

Connie Sance

We I was diagnosed my kids were 13 and 6. My husband and I decided to tell them because we were afraid they would hear it from someone else. We were not sure of my outcome and we knew I would be going through chemotherapy. We wanted to be completely honest with them. One of my sweetest memories of that journey was my daughters friends coming over and being so comfortable with me and my bald head. They took their reactions from me. I knew if I stayed positive around my kids and my family they would be ok. It's a difficult decision and has to be a personal decision.

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