Sharing A Cancer Diagnosis With Your Children
- TV presenter Julia Bradbury shared the news of her breast cancer diagnosis in September 2021, but telling her children before that was the “hardest thing” she’s ever done.
- Many women develop breast cancer every year, and the disease is the subject of much research. There are many treatment options out there, but treatment paths depend greatly on the specifics of each case.
- 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. That being said, it’s important for both parties to try to express their feelings because not doing so can cause us “to feel dysregulated (unable to manage emotional responses or keep them within an acceptable range of typical emotional reactions) and anxious,” according to one of our experts.
Bradbury has been married to her husband, property developer Gerard Cunningham, since 2000, and the two have three children together: a son Zephyrus, 10, and 7-year-old twin daughters Xanthe and Zena. Like most mothers, she cares about her family deeply. So, when it came time to tell her kids about her cancer diagnosis, she recently said it was the “hardest thing” ever.Read More
Bradbury’s diagnosis came after a couple mammograms to check on a lump she found in her breast during the summer of 2020. She announced her breast cancer diagnosis in September 2021, but she told her children before sharing the news with the world.
“One of my children said can I still hug you, and another of my children said is it contagious,” she said. “I never thought about either of those two things, so you just don’t know what is going through their mind.
“You do your best, but it is just a very, very difficult thing to navigate.”
Following a double mastectomy shortly after her diagnosis, Bradbury immediately underwent breast reconstruction.
“My kids have been amazing, and they’ve made friends with my new boob, and they say mummy it doesn’t feel the same,” she said. “I know it doesn’t feel the same, but I’m here, and that’s what it has done.”
A documentary following Bradbury’s cancer journey, Julia Bradbury: Breast Cancer & Me, is set to be released soon. As for where she’s at now, she does not technically have the all clear yet. In a separate interview, she revealed that she has tiny fragments of cancerous cells in her breast tissue and a genetic predisposition to a higher than average risk of her cancer coming back. Even still, her attitude is positive.
“I’m in the top 5 or 6 percent of women in the country in terms of the likelihood of recurrence,” she said. “That puts me in the ‘moderate risk’ category – higher than the average woman – but, look, it’s about percentages and perspectives.
“The doctors have not found a huge spread of an aggressive cancer. I have lost my breast but been able to have an implant and keep my own nipple. I feel lucky and grateful every single day, and I have to learn to live with this risk, to accept the fragility of life, without it consuming me.”
She did not need chemotherapy or radiation to treat her breast cancer, but Bradbury is now considering the pros and cons of starting a regime of hormone therapies to reduce her likelihood of recurrence.
“They’re potentially life-saving drugs, but they come with significant side effects for some women – joint pain, osteoporosis, trouble with your teeth, risk of uterine cancer and a running jump straight into menopause,” she explained. “I have young children to consider and it’s hard to know what’s best.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. And while mammograms aren’t perfect, they are still a great way to begin annual screening. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women begin mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. Even still, we know that a breast cancer diagnosis can come at any age.
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, it’s important to be vigilant and speak with your doctor. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
There are many treatment options for people with breast cancer, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
Navigating Cancer with Your Children
Telling your children about your cancer can be heartbreaking. But sharing the news with your children can help both them and you throughout your cancer journey.
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.
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.”