Saturday, October 31, 2009
Allison and her Nana
When I learned that family member, Allison, had a story to share about breast cancer, I put together the following questions. Her grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer when Allison was at a young age. Her story helped me to see how her parents handled the situation with her being so young and what kinds of feelings and concerns she must have felt at such an age.
Like Allison, I was young when I heard that a relative was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the updates on this relative's progress were filtered by my mother as she talked with the relative's mother on the phone. I remember being scared and wishing I knew more about what was going on. My mother did not go into detail about my relative's treatment. Thankfully, this relative survived.
As a parent, I understand the need to be careful with how much is told to a child when a close relative is battling such a life-threatening disease. A lot of breast cancer information spread around can imply that it is not a disease many survive and this can be scary to a child. This can cause the child to be fearful of the outcome when someone they love is diagnosed.
Fortunately, Allison's story has a happy ending. Her grandmother survived breast cancer. She and her grandmother are closer because of this experience. Not only was it an educational experience for the both of them, but also a life-changing one.
Below are Allison's answers to my questions.
1. How old were you when you learned of your grandmother's diagnosis of breast cancer? How did you handle the news?
I was about 8 years old when I got the call and found everything out.
I was very educated and mature for that age, so I knew what it meant.
2. What do you know about the kind of treatment she received? Either during the early stages or later stages.
The treatment that I know about was that she qualified for the removal
of her whole left breast because the cancer hadn't spread anywhere
else. Back then, the new law hadn't passed yet about breast
reconstruction being something doctors were obligated to offer and
fulfill if the patient desired. What I know that she was offered was a
prosthetic breast which she did take. I just know that it was very
heavy and she moved on to a cloth prosthetic.
3. How were you able to support her and be there for her while she was receiving treatment?
At first, I didn't support her. I was so young and I was instantly
afraid of her possible death, because to me hearing that someone had
cancer, it meant they were dying. It was all over shortly, and she had
recovered fine, so I was just happy for her that she survived.
4. In what way did you and your family connect on an emotional level while your grandmother was battling breast cancer? In what ways did you cope?
I wasn't told much because I was too young, and though I am sure my parents were afraid, they wanted to protect me and didn't tell me when she was going in for surgery. It wasn't until she had her second cancer (in her chin) that I knew when she was going in for surgery, and we all took it as "she'll be fine, it won't kill her, she's too strong." Plus, the doctor had already made her feel assured, so she assured us.
5. On what other levels (spiritual, intellectual, etc.) did you
experience growth and/or empowerment during this difficult time?
I've grown in my ways of viewing cancer as something that IS beatable, and you DON'T have to go through chemo and all these horrible things in all cancer cases. It's made me feel confident that if I one day got cancer, I would probably be able to beat it.
6. What was your biggest source of support in trying to cope with this experience? Is it still a source of support in other ways?
Her words of assurance that she would be fine, and that if anything DID happen to her, she's lived a happy life. She is such an amazing person, and when she's not scared, it makes me feel like I don't have to be scared.
7. In what ways was your grandmother inspiring to you during her fight with breast cancer?
Her light-hearted humor about her prosthetic, and about how she didn't have a left breast anymore. She poked fun at herself, and it made it all very easy to deal with. She inspired me to laugh at life's challenges when you beat them, and just smile.
8. What is one memory that stands out from this time?
When she showed me her scar tissue on her chest, and her explanation of what it feels like and how she felt about it. And probably...me wearing her prosthetic breasts around the house because she thought it was funny.
9. Is there a major or national charity that really made a difference for your grandmother during this time? Please explain.
Not that I know of, actually.
10. How has your relationship with your grandmother improved or been changed ever since she became a breast cancer survivor?
We've always been close and had a very special connection. I know that I admire her more knowing she's battled cancer twice, and she has such a positive outlook about it all. She's so inspiring and such an amazing person. I think anyone who is suffering with cancer would benefit from her company.