Tackling Cancer as a Family
- Stacy Watkins and Dan Price are the parents of two teenage children that had to overcome crippling heart conditions they were born with. But the family’s health issues did not stop there. Price’s mother and Watkins’ father are both battling lung cancer, and now Price’s doctors have discovered a tumor on his spine and Watkin’s is desperately seeking treatment options for cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix – the lower part of the womb (uterus). Treatment options for cervical cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually-transmitted virus, causes more than 70% of cervical cancer cases.
- Telling your children about a cancer diagnosis can be really hard, and some parents consider it to be the hardest part of their cancer journeys.
- If you’re a teenager – or anyone for that matter – it’s a good idea to at least try to let those you’re closest with know what’s going on because having support during such a trying time is crucial. And for teenagers with sick parents, there’s a whole host of emotions and social complexities that can make it difficult to tell even your closest friends about your parent’s health battle. But there are resources out there to help.
Watkins and Price’s family, of the town of Reading in Berkshire, England, were first met with health challenges when their two children Hayden, 18, and Tia, 15, were both born with a congenital complete heart block – a disruption of the electrical nerve impulses that regulate the pumping of the heart. Hayden has been through four pacemakers since he was born and Tia spent a year and a half in the hospital fighting for her life before having a full heart transplant at just four years old.Read More
“It’s literally been a whirlwind of a life, it’s coming at us from every single angle,” Price said. “One of these things to happen in a lifetime is bad enough but all of the things happening at the same time, it’s like living in your own horror movie.
“We’ve had to sit the kids down and tell them that their grandad has cancer and it’s not looking good… My mum is fighting stage 4 lung cancer. She’s already had one lung removed but it’s returned so we’ve had to tell them their nan has cancer.”
But the bad news does not stop there. Now Price’s doctors have discovered a tumor on his spine that may or may not be cancerous and Watkins has received a very serious cervical cancer diagnosis.
“Then we’ve had to sit [our children] down and tell them that their mum has cancer and say we are looking at months with treatment,” Price said. “And then we’ve had to turn around and tell them it’s not just neck and back pain I have, I also have a tumor at the top of my spine and will need an operation.”
Watkins was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor on her cervix back in October 2021 when her doctor sent her to the hospital after undergoing blood work related to her treatments for Lupus – an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation and pain in the body.
“They explained that they had found this mass and it was cancer. I asked her ‘how long have I got and is it curable?'” Watkins said. “She told me without treatment I would have weeks to months and with treatment it would be more months, but not years.
“I was completely numb, it was awful. Everyone was talking in the room but I couldn’t hear anything.”
Fast forward to today, and Watkins is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for her cervical cancer, but doctors have told her she’s unlikely to survive for more than a year even with the chemo. Hence why the family has started a fundraising page to try to pay for “experimental and pioneering treatment,” according to The Mirror, that could potentially prolong the mother’s life or cure the cancer.
“I don’t want to leave my kids or Daniel. I love being a mum, I think it’s the best gift you can ever have,” Watkins said. “To be told I have more time and I don’t have to leave them would be amazing.”
To call the whole situation a tragedy is an understatement. But the family is just trying to move forward as best they can.
“To come through what we have with our children and then to have this thrown at us we’re a strong family and will get through it one way or another, we are determined,” Price said.
Understanding Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix – the lower part of the womb (uterus). Treatment options for cervical cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually-transmitted virus, causes more than 70% of cervical cancer cases. It’s important to note, however, that other risk factors like smoking can make you about twice as likely to get cervical cancer as those who don’t smoke.
The American Cancer Society estimates that the United States will see about 14,100 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in 2022. Cervical cancer screening is critically important because an earlier diagnosis can mean a better prognosis with broader treatment options. The American Cancer Society recommends that cervical cancer screening begins at age 25, and people aged 25 to 65 should have a primary HPV test, an HPV test done by itself for screening, every 5 years. If primary HPV testing is not available, however, screening may be done with either a co-test that combines an HPV test with a Papanicolaou (Pap) test every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
The most common symptoms of cervical cancer can include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal sex, bleeding after menopause, after douching, bleeding and spotting in between periods or having heavier or longer (menstrual) periods than usual.
- Unusual discharge from the vagina that may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.
- Pain during sex.
- Pain in the pelvic region.
Navigating Cancer with Your Children
It’s an understatement to say that Watkins and Price have a lot on their hands right now. But one of the things they’ve had to work through is telling their teenage children about all of these serious health issues – including cancers – within the family.
Breast cancer survivor Victoria Rego previously told SurvivorNet that having to tell her daughter about her diagnosis was one of the hardest things about her cancer experience.
“My biggest issues were telling my teenage daughter. That was probably the hardest thing because I’m a single mom, and she had just lost her idol, her great grandmother, a few months before,” she said.
“Telling her that this was happening was just beyond my understanding of how I was going to do it, but I did it, with the help of her father,” she said. “I can only imagine that it was frightening for her, even though she didn’t let up on that it was frightening for her. But she was happy to step up whenever I needed her.
“After everything was done, my daughter turned to me one day [and said], ‘I don’t think I ever told you how proud I am of you just because of your strength.’”
Telling your children about a cancer diagnosis is tricky enough, but it’s also crucial to make sure they have the resources they need to move forward after that news. And for Watkins and Price’s teenage children, it’s probably a good idea to at least try to let those they’re closest with know what’s going on because having support during such a trying time is crucial.
There are many resources for people to turn to if they’re struggling with a parent’s cancer diagnosis including specific pages on the American Cancer Society and MD Anderson Cancer Center‘s websites. The National Cancer Institute also does a good job offering advice specifically for teens looking to open up to their friends about a parent’s cancer diagnosis in a booklet that you can access online entitled When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens. To start, it’s important to remember that just like you’re unsure of how to handle the situation, your friends probably will be too.
“It is hard for some people to know what to say,” the NCI guide states. “Others may think it’s rude to ask questions. Try to be gentle on friends who don’t ask about your parent’s cancer or how you are doing. You may need to take the first step.”
The guide also reminds readers that friends may ask tough questions that you might not feel like answering – and that’s okay. If you do want to share a little bit of info you can try saying something like “talking about what’s going on right now is hard, but it’s nice of you to ask. The doctors are saying: [add in your own information here]…” But, if you don’t want to talk about it at the moment, it’s perfectly okay to tell them so or ask if it’s be okay to talk about it later.
Additionally, try to keep in mind that your friends have their own lives too. And even if it seems like their lives are moving forward without you, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. If you’re ever feeling left out, try to tell them how you’re feeling without making them feel guilty. You can try saying something like: “I miss hanging out together. I know that I’ve had a lot on my mind since my dad got sick. I’m glad we’re still friends. Want to hang out tomorrow?”
Licensed clinical psychologist Marianna Strongin has previously explained the importance of expressing your feelings in her advice column for SurvivorNet.
“Talking about difficult things does not cause more anxiety,” she said. “It is NOT talking about the very thing that we are all afraid or worried about that causes our body to feel dysregulated (unable to manage emotional responses or keep them within an acceptable range of typical emotional reactions) and anxious.”
Addressing people with sick parents, Dr. Strongin says, “I encourage you to talk about your feelings with your immediate family as well as your parents.”