Here’s How I Told My Kids I Was Going To Lose My Hair
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my first thought was, “How will I tell the kids?” I knew in my heart that their emotions would mirror mine, so here’s how I’ve told them about each step of my cancer-kicking expedition so far…
In October 2020, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 43. I’ll spare you all the technical stuff because it even bores me, but they found several small spots of cancer in my left breast at a relatively early stage and my doctors clearly told me that I was going to beat it. PHEW.
As soon as the specialist uttered the words, “It’s cancer”, my thoughts turned to my three daughters – a seven-year-old and four-year-old twins.
Our family was just starting to emerge from the fog and fatigue of producing three humans in less than three years. Things were finally starting to get good again and now I had to drop this bomb.
Like a typical mom, I wasn’t worried about myself at all. All I could think about was my kids and how they’d feel. That’s when it dawned on me: the way to make them feel OK about it was to be as open, honest and optimistic as I’ve always been when tackling difficult topics.
I was genuinely feeling positive (I tend to go into fight mode in a crisis and I had no reason to fear for my life), so I knew I wouldn’t have to force it. I just needed to be me and tell them the truth in words their little minds could understand.
Here’s how I told my kids I would have a breast removed and a new one put in
I pictured all sorts of “perfect moments” to announce the big news to my daughters, but I ended up telling them on the spur of the moment over dinner when my husband wasn’t even around. It just felt right, so I said:
“Our bodies are made up of millions of cells and most of them are healthy, but sometimes some cells become unhealthy. I have some unhealthy cells in my breast and the doctors need to remove them so that they don’t make me sick. I’m going to have an operation to remove my left breast and they’re going to make me a new one! I think it’ll look pretty cool.”
Twin 1: “Will it be shiny?!”
Me: “The doctor will put an implant – which is like a pouch filled with liquid – under my skin, so you won’t actually see it. My new breast will look like my old breast except there won’t be a nipple anymore and I’ll have a scar. Maybe I can ask my doctor if she has any shiny implants she can put in! I doubt it, but I’ll ask.”
All girls together: “COOL!”
To my surgeon’s credit (who’s also a mom), she told the girls she’d try source an implant with a unicorn on it! Hehehe.
In the lead-up to my surgery, I spoke to my girls about how long I’d be gone (four nights), how my breast would look immediately after surgery (stitches and bandages) and how it would look in the long run (a scar that would fade over time).
I let them ask me as many questions as they wanted and soothed their (mild) concerns. My eldest understood the most and was a little worried that she’d have trouble getting used to my new boob.
When I came home from the hospital and unveiled it to them, they were pleasantly surprised. “Wow, Mom! That looks cool! It doesn’t look at all like I thought it would,” my big girl said. The twins didn’t even blink and asked for a snack.
Here’s how I told my kids I would lose my hair
A few days after I was released from the hospital, I found out that one of my lymph nodes had come back positive for cancer and I needed a second surgery to remove all the lymph nodes in my left armpit.
Thankfully, no other nodes turned out to be positive – hooray! But because of the small risk that a few rogue cancer cells could have gotten into my bloodstream and because of my young age, I needed chemotherapy to minimize the risk of cancer coming back.
No one looks forward to chemo. Some people have it easier while others have a heck of a time, but no one says it’s a walk in the park. Then there’s the whole issue of going bald. MEEP.
Call me vain, but losing my hair was one of the hardest things for me to accept in this whole breast cancer expedition. (As a side note, one of my breast cancer buddies taught me to call it an expedition because a “journey” sounds like you’re drinking cocktails in Bali!)
I’ve always had long hair and the thought of being bald freaked me out. So, I decided to take control of the situation and do it on my terms. First, I had my hair cut short by my hairdresser as my girls cheered me on.
They’d been lukewarm about the idea of Mom having short hair, but they took to it immediately. When I reminded them that the next step was shaving it off, their eyes went wide. They were all a little worried about what Bald Mommy would look like.
When my hair started to fall out, I bought some clippers. It was between Christmas and New Year’s, so we were busy and I wasn’t sure when the right time to shave it off would be. In the end, it was a spur-of-the moment decision again.
We’d decided to stay in a nearby AirBnB for two nights as a little family getaway. I brought the clippers along, and on the first night I declared: “It’s time.” We put on some upbeat music, I poured myself a glass of wine and my husband gave me a buzz cut like a boss.
The girls cheered as my hair fell all around me and they even took turns shaving some of my hair off. It was such a beautiful and empowering moment. I’ll never forget that day for as long as I live.
Now that I only have fuzz left on my head, they call me Baby Monkey and gently rub my head. They’ve been so resilient and I couldn’t be prouder.
My expedition isn’t over yet – I might still need radiotherapy, hormone therapy and another mastectomy when I’m done with chemo in a few months. But I know how I’ll tell my girls about the next steps: with a smile on my face and a lightness in my heart knowing that my girl squad will be cheering me on every step of the way.
“When you’re brave, you help me be brave,” I tell them. And I know that goes both ways.