Breast cancer stinks no matter how old you are. But when you’re facing it about 30 years ahead of the average age of diagnosis, it presents with its own unique set of challenges. Namely, you’re probably still working your ass off towards retirement and raising young kids.
I had been wrestling with how best to explain my surgery and lengthy recovery to my 4-year-old son, Fio, trying to keep things simple so as not to scare him. I came up with “Mommy needs to see a special doctor to make her better” and “Mommy will be in the hospital for a few days so the doctor can watch her.” That segued into why Mommy will be staying at Nonno and Nonna’s house after she gets back from the hospital, and why the ports Mommy will have to drain from her abdomen and chest are NOT toys.
|Little Fiorello, aka "Dr. Fio"
© Tamme Stitt Photography
Or at least, I never thought they understood. To the best of my recollection, we have never mentioned the words “breast cancer” directly to my son, but he must have heard us talking at some point and put two and two together with his toddler math.
One night, not long after what felt like my 80th biopsy, I absentmindedly adjusted my sports bra strap, which didn’t escape Fio’s attention. “Is your boobie OK?” he asked suspiciously. Without waiting for an answer, he ordered, “Come upstairs to my office.”
He first showed me to his “waiting room,” which was my bedroom, and ordered me to sit there till he was ready. Two seconds later he came back (quickest doctor’s office wait ever!), led me to his office (aka, his bedroom), sat me on his bed and took out his toy doctor’s kit. He checked my blood pressure, put the stethoscope to my heart and gave me a shot.
“Your boobies are sick,” he said after much deliberation. “We need to change them.”
He informed me that he could do the procedure. When I told him that Mommy had a doctor all picked out, he seemed a little concerned, in fact, that it wouldn’t be him doing the surgery.
I kissed him, stroked his head and let him know that if our insurance didn’t come through, that might be a really good backup plan.