I Spent 10 Years Keeping My Breast Cancer a Secret from My Son

I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31 in 2004. I was young and healthy —  I mean, no bikini model, but fit enough. So when I went to do the biopsy, the doctors thought they were being overly cautious. But lo and behold: cancer. That was three years before my son was born — and 13 years before I told him about my cancer. 

After my initial diagnosis, I did a bilateral mastectomy, 16 weeks of chemotherapy, and my husband and I considered IVFbecause chemo can ruin your chances of being able to get pregnant. Ultimately, we chose against IVF in hopes that we would be able to conceive after treatment. 

Working with my oncologist, we came up with a plan for how we could try to conceive. While conception wasn’t initially successful, we were thrilled to learn I was pregnant in 2008. Truly, we felt like it was a miracle; we knew the statistics were not in our favor. Since I was to have the baby at an advanced maternal age and since I was a cancer survivor, I was watched closely during my pregnancy.  

You can imagine the level of emotion I felt when I delivered my miracle baby on December 8, 2008. My husband and I were excited to put cancer behind us and start our new life with our sweet baby boy. 

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CANCERVERSARY – 14 years ago my life changed on December 29, 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. No family history. I didn't feel sick. We just felt a lump, which led us to go to the doctor. Was it devastating? YES…but we were not devastated. Somehow we found a little happiness through the hardship and through the years I've shared my stories with patients and those in the cancer community in hopes to make someone's life a little easier. And now I finally published a book about the first few weeks. We had no idea what to do…but somehow got though. "Happiness through Hardship" is a digital guide available now on the Amazon Kindle (and the Amazon Kindle app.) _ I've been fortunate to have many people who showed me the way. This book is dedicated to my three angels who provided love and advice throughout – Mary Ann Wasil, Ellen Cavaiuolo and Meghan Zucker. Half of the profits will be donated to stage IV cancer research through @thecancercouchfoundation. More information is in profile bio link. _ P.S. This is the ONLY picture I took bald…and Mary Ann is wearing my wig. 📸 Original photo taken in 2005 by @chriscappyphoto _ #cancerversary #breastcancer #cancer #cancersurvivor #breastcancersurvivor #cancerthriver #breastcancerthriver #cancerresearch #stageIV #stage4needsmore #SU2C #cancerwarrior #breastcancerresearch #baldisbeautiful #donate #ebook #amazonkindle #happinessthroughhardship #choosejoy #chooselove #motivationalspeaker #womeninmedia #prettywellness #wellpreneur #iamwellandgood #mindbodygram

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Several years later, on my 40th birthday, I chose to treat myself with a health-filled birthday present: a full-day doctor’s appointment at the Princeton Longevity Center. 

The result showed I had the heart of a 29-year old (yippee) — and a suspicious lesion on my sternum. This turned out to be stage IV metastatic breast cancer — the same one from 2004. While I knew the statistics for breast cancer (that one in eight women will get it), I did not know that for 30% of those women, it will metastasize and come back.   

I was in shock. I couldn’t help but just think about what stage IV meant. And to me, it meant death — and death right away.  

My world was turned upside down. It took me a few weeks before I could even really grasp what was happening, as it all seemed to be going on so fast. I wasn’t sure if I was going to live for four months or four decades. The stakes were so much higher than my first time with cancer; now, I had my son to consider, in addition to my husband. I couldn’t imagine them living in a world without me, and I didn’t want to think about it. It made me physically sick considering it.

But cancer doesn’t care how you feel. It makes you have to think about these kinds of things anyway.  

As I headed into my new treatments, I received lots of unsolicited advice on how we should navigate this cancer treatment, especially regarding what we should tell our child. While not a popular path, my husband and I decided to keep my cancer a secret from my son — who was 4.5 years old at the time.   

We chose this path because we wanted to keep his innocence. We knew that this diagnosis was serious and could have serious results, but we wanted our family life to move forward in love and happiness rather than in fear.  

While there were many people who pushed us to tell our son, we also received council from outside of our friends and family. We were grateful for the support from an organization called CancerCare. They counseled us over the phone and said to us, “If you don’t want to tell him, don’t tell him.” 

I felt a sigh of relief. I’m not sure why I felt I needed the permission, but in some odd way, I just did.

Once we made the decision, we felt good about it — and knew that, depending on the treatment, we might need to revisit our plans.  

When our son was young, it was easy to keep the secret. He knew that I was going to the doctor a lot, but we didn’t get into the details of why. He didn’t seem to really notice when I was tired, drained or really stressed out. He wasn’t overly interested in the details of why Mommy was going to the doctor.   

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I REMEMBER BEING BALD…and wishing for the day when I could blow dry my own hair. Then after the stage IV diagnosis, my meds changed and I was put into medical menopause, followed by a hysterectomy…so while I didn't lose my hair after the second diagnosis, it sure changed. _ Sometimes it really doesn't bother me…because the big picture is that I'm here and thriving on Ibrance (chemo pill), Letrozole and Xgeva. Other times, I miss my long, thick hair. Though today, I had a good hair day and I'm celebrating. I'm proud to say…I did it myself. _ For those going through changes with your hair, here are some of the lessons I learned: ✅ Eating lots (and I mean tons) of vegetables and drinking water changed my skin and hair. It positively impacted many elements in my life. ✅ Changing shampoo and conditioner to truly natural products helped my hair shine and grow. I love @yarok and @doterra products. ✅ When hair changes, you often need to change products, I added conditioners. I like @acurebeauty Mega Moisture Deep Root Conditioner. ✅ Consider using vitamins, minerals, herbs, essential oils – I always talk to a naturopathic doctor to see what my body may be missing. I've taken Biotin before and used ylang ylang essential oils. I've heard of cancer survivors swearing that @sugarbearhair vitamins helped their hair grow. Please check with a doc or naturopath before you take any supplements, though…especially if you are on medicine. ✅ Last but not least…find tools that can help you make your hair look good. I just got a blow dryer brush and straight iron that I used this morning. _ What's your favorite way to wear your hair? Do you have any green beauty / natural hair suggestions? #cancersurvivor #cancerstruggle #breastcancer #cancerresearch #cancerwarrior #lifeaftercancer #cancerwontwin #cancermom #americancancersociety #survivor #courage #cancerawareness #cancersucks #essentialoils #naturopath #ibrance #letrozole #naturalliving #chemo #organicliving #nontoxic #greenbeauty #naturalhaircare #nontoxicbeauty #haircare #badhairday #hairlife #hairinspo #cleanbeauty #ecobeauty

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What we did focus on was health and healthy living. That is what my son knows about me most. When I received the stage IV diagnosis, my focus was to be with my son for as long as I possibly could. I dug into every piece of research that I could about being well while healing. While I couldn’t control that I had cancer, I could control my lifestyle — and so I did. I created PrettyWellness to chronicle my journey; I hoped to inspire busy mothers and share healthy living tips.  

As our son got older, keeping the secret became more difficult. When he was almost 10, it became clear that it was time to tell him about the cancer. My husband and I decided to share the news in stages as we’d learned this is a good approach in talking about serious issues with children. So we began to bring cancer into the conversation. We talked about the different types of cancers — as he’d begun to learn about in school. Some of those cancers people can live with, even get cured from. When the time was right — in September of last year, right before Breast Cancer Awareness Month — we told him directly about my cancer. 

The conversation was simple and positive. We just told him, “Mommy had cancer, and that’s why she does her work with Pretty Wellness.” We reminded him that cancer can be scary, but it’s not scary for me. We kept it positive, just as I have chosen to do with all of my communication for Pretty Wellness and in my book, Happiness through Hardship 

Is treatment easy? No. I’m on a chemotherapy pill regimen. I go to Yale every month for treatment and every three months for scans. I’ve had radiation and a hysterectomy in the past few years. The hope is that I’m in treatment for the rest of my life — because that means it’s working. 

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WORLD CANCER DAY | We ALL have been touched by cancer. Whether you believe in western medicine, eastern practices or both – investing in new treatments and better equipment is a game changer. _ In the past 14-years since my initial diagnosis, here are some of the areas of improvement that have helped with my quality of life: -NEW & UPDATED surgeries from the Sentinel Node Biopsy, bilateral mastectomy, chest reconstruction, hysterectomy and easier biopsies -From ACT chemotherapy to Ibrance the CHEMO pill – Improved TECHNOLOGY and EQUIPMENT including faster and more accurate scans and SBRT – laser focused radiation that zapped the stage IV cancer twice -More certified ACUPUNCTURISTS in the area made it easier to find one and heal from this practice -MORE YOGA – the rise of yoga instructor programs and boutique studios helped me practice yoga regularly to physically and mentally heal both times with cancer -More ORGANIC foods – better stores, more organic product in traditional stores and increased farmer's markets around town have made organic produce a more viable option for me and many _ There's still so much we can do…and research is key to finding better treatments and making cancer more bearable for those diagnosed. Today – consider donating to your favorite cancer charity or mine – @thecancercouchfoundation – see link in profile bio 💗 _ If you know someone recently diagnosed, my ebook can help, "Happiness through Hardship" – see link in bio 💗 _ Sending healing vibes and good health to you and your family. xoxo _ #PrettyWellness #worldcancerday #worldcancerday2019 #cancersurvivor #cancerthriver #cancerawareness #breastcancer #pinkribbon #breastcancersurvivor #breastcancerresearch #cancerresearch #ibrance #yoga #cancerhealing #americancancersociety #SBRT #organicliving #organiclifestyle #eatclean #foodisthymedicine #naturalliving #acupuncture #bilateralmastectomy #radiation #mondaymotivation #donate #thecancercouchfoundation

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We know we are fortunate to have been able to provide our son with a childhood that we hoped for — a childhood that was filled with hope and fun, rather than the gloom and doom of cancer. We do not regret our decision to keep my cancer secret from him for the first nine years of his life, and we are very grateful we had the chance to do just that.  

There is no right way to tell (or not tell) your child about a cancer diagnosis. The choice is as individual as the person. We cannot know what our days would have been like had we told him sooner — and the good news is that we didn’t have to. 

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FITTING IN FITNESS – No matter where I go or often whom I’m with…I try to include wellness in our activities. This pic was taken on a walk home from dinner. I’m not wearing the “right” exercise clothes or “best” shoes…but I walked an hour, laughed a lot and spent quality time with my family. _ Other ways I fit in fitness: ✅Adding weights while blow drying my hair ✅Doing squats while brushing my teeth ✅Scheduling walking meetings with friends and colleagues to catch up ✅Create a circuit training routine with my kid – ✨✨Check out the link in our IG profile bio for one of our fitness lists – 35 Fit, Fun and Mostly Free Activities with Kids _ ✅What are your healthy fitness or lifestyle hacks? _ #PrettyWellness #healthyhacks #healthhacks #lifehacks #fitmom #fitfamily #countingsteps #smallsteps #tips #healthylifestyletips #fitness #findingtime #loseweight #wellnesswithinyourreach #wellnessafterloss #WellnessWeekends #WellnessWeekend #wellnesskit #wellnessathome #wellnesscurator #wellnessgoals #holisticwellness #healthylivingjourney #wellnesswarrior #wellnesswarriors #wellnesswithinreach #cancersurvivor #workingmom

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For all of those who are diagnosed with cancer, my advice is simple: Listen to your heart. It will tell you what is best for you, your children and your family. For some of you, that will mean you will need to tell your children; for others, you might have the ability to keep their innocence intact for longer. Whichever path, there is no wrong answer. Choose for yourself and cancel out the noise. 

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