I have young girls. They had just turned 6 and 10 when I was diagnosed. My 10-year old knew about breast cancer, although her understanding of breast cancer at that time was limited to pink ribbons and walks, and commercials she’d seen on TV which informed her that breast cancer kills X number of women every year. My 6-year old had no clue. We told her that Mommy’s boobies were sick and had to be taken away. That was about the extent of what she could grasp at that time. Fast forward a couple of years later and we all have such a different understanding and breadth of knowledge about this asshole disease. For instance, one day my older daughter came to me, scared because she felt a lump in her breast. She was 11. Breast buds. My baby was starting to grow breasts. I feel such guilt about the fact that my babies now have a family history and increased risk of breast cancer. And I feel horrible and guilty because I have tainted any excitement my daughter, now 12, may have about getting breasts.
My youngest, now 8, started processing the cancer experience shortly after I’d finished treatment and surgeries. She began asking me questions at random times. Did I still have cancer? My boobies were sick, but I wasn’t, right? Why did I get cancer? Lately, she’s been telling me that she’s so glad that I didn’t die. (Of course I don’t tell her that we can’t take for granted that it won’t come back and it’s a fear I feel every day of my life.) She’s been asking more pointed questions lately such as, will she get cancer. That is just excruciating. At some point, I will have to tell them that they are at increased risk and need to start screening when they are 32, but that conversation doesn’t have to happen for a long time.
This weekend, the 8-year old and I were at the grocery store, walking down the laundry detergent aisle. She pointed out to me a bra-washing-bag (a mesh, lingerie bag, but specifically for bras, apparently). I jokingly said that I won’t ever be needing one of those, but her sister may be needing one soon because she’s starting to get her boobies. She thought about that for a second and then asked me if her sister was going to have to have surgery when she gets her boobies. I guess she’s still processing. And I’m still feeling excruciatingly guilty.