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CancerLynx - we prowl the net
March 04, 2000

Mothers with Metastatic Cancer
Judy Kean-Lunsford

The following comments and ideas have been written from the perspective of a mother of a young child.

The pain of a diagnosis of metastatic cancer fills the cup to the brim. The thought of your young child or children growing up without their mother causes that pain to overflow from that cup. under the circumstances. I adopt a prepare to die but expect to live philosophy. In keeping with that, there are steps we can take that will make the time we have left with our children the happiest possible, while ensuring that we have done our best to see to the needs of our children if/when we die.

There are many things to consider, and this list is not all-inclusive, but it is a starting point.
- Depending on your child's age, you will want them to know that you have a disease that you and your doctor are doing their best to treat. I have told my child from a young age (about 5) that this is a disease that many people die from, and that I could die from it. It is a personal choice how much to tell a child. There is a need to balance the fear that a child will feel with a sense of unpreparedness should the child not be told and the parent dies.

- From my experience, the child's first reaction will be to need reassurance that if mommy dies, there will be people there to take care of them. My daughter had stated that it's okay if I die because daddy and grandma will be there to take care of her. Reassure your child often that there are plenty of people in his/her life that will be there as caregivers if you should die.

- If you believe counseling would be helpful, there are support groups for kids of parents with cancer in many areas. Check with you local branch of the American Cancer Society or contact breast cancer support groups.

- Build a local support system for your child. Inform neighbors, teachers, church members, etc. of your medical status. I made a point of letting my daughter's school teacher know of my condition, and asked that should I die, that the school psychologist be informed and that Jessica be given counseling if needed. I also spoke with the psychologist asking that he provide support if needed. Make friends with other moms that might help in the future with getting your children back and forth to music lessons, soccer practice, etc.

- There is an excellent organization called New Songs that is provides bereavement group counseling for children who have lost a parent. I don't know how widely available it is, but there may be similar organizations in your area. Ask the American Cancer Society, your pediatrician, or a private counselor for help in finding something like New Song. I know two families who take their children there and the kids love going.

- I have thought it would be nice to appoint a trusted friend to be sort of a guardian angel to your child if you were to die. That person could be sure to follow your child through their teens, being a special friend to talk to about adolescence, hormones, puberty, choosing friends, dealing with dating, picking a major for college, why not to do drugs or have pre-marital sex, etc.

- Write your thoughts and feelings down in a journal for your child to read someday. Include family history, your feelings of love for your child and family, advice on anything such as religion, nutrition, sex and dating, being responsible, getting along with others, etc. I have included some Dear Abby columns that I liked. Take care to not sound too sad or depressed. Some women make a video or audio tape for their children.

- Keep your photo album up to date. While some like those fancy scrapbook kits that artfully capture family life and times, there are simple albums that have a margin to write in on the side of the page.

- Of course, keep your will up to date and be sure to appoint a guardian for your child. Think about whether you want your child's guardian to also control the trust money or if you would prefer someone more financially knowledgeable or trustworthy. It is better to name a trust as a beneficiary rather than a child. The child then is beneficiary of the trust. I will not try to explain legal matters, I'm just repeating what my lawyer told me. I also had an educational trust set up so about 20% of my life insurance proceeds will go into this trust, with my husband as trustee.

- Talk to your husband often about how you would want your children to be raised in your absence. Many may feel that their husbands know them well enough so this isn't necessary, but it doesn't hurt to discuss things like how old your child should be to start dating, when your child should be expected to learn to perform household chores, allowances, when and how to discuss sex, being aware of friends that could be bad influences, etc. Boy, this could lead to some really late night discussions!!!

- Take your child with you at least once to the oncologist's office. If you don't want to do that, at least talk about your kids when you go to the doctor's. That will help him or her to see you as a mother as well as a cancer patient. Sometimes we feel that our doctors see us as just another body full of disease to treat. We're not! We are mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters.

- The last step, now that you've taken care of all the above, is to LIVE and HAVE FUN with your kids. Do special things that they will remember--the most special of all is being with you, talking, laughing, playing games! Trips, birthday parties, plays, can be wonderful. But your child wants most of all to have fun with you, to know how much you love him or her.

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