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Breast cancer and Hurricane Irene have something in common: Families must cope with the fear and uncertainty of the approaching storm as well as the aftermath of the physical and emotional devastation. Hurricanes and breast cancer are life-changing times when families need to pull together for the long haul. They are times which call for selflessness and support, but unfortunately, not every family member responds well to a crisis or has the same needs.
Sadly, many breast cancer marriages split up because husbands don’t know how, or don’t want to be caregivers or, as one husband told me, he didn’t want to be “holding the bag if she died.” What he didn’t realize was that when he took the cowardly way out, he was the one who caused a death, the death of his family. A study in the journal Cancer reports that in families where one spouse is seriously ill, men are more likely to be the one who abandons their spouse. Soon after their diagnosis of cancer or MS, 21 percent of women became separated or divorced, while only 3 percent of men with a life-threatening illness experienced divorce. Marriages aren’t the only relationships to suffer during a crisis. As unthinkable as it sounds, children of every age are often left to find their own way. I was one of those kids.
Only one of my teachers, Mrs. Jeeter, even talked to me about my father’s death from cancer. At the time, I didn’t have the words to tell her how much I appreciated her compassion. She was the only person, in or out of my family, who acknowledged my pain. She asked me if she could tell the class why I’d been absent, and I agreed. This was back in the day, when the big “C” was only talked about in whispers, and families hid their dirty linen behind the public pretext of being a “Leave it to Beaver” family. While my teacher meant well, my classmates reacted to the news like I was someone who’d been exposed to something contagious like “cooties.” The only kid in my school who said anything to me was Gordon Downey, who appeared on my 13-year-old doorstep the next day with a condom in his hand. Because his father had recently died of a heart attack, I guess this was his pubescent way of comforting one another. Not!! My experience taught me how much kids need words of comfort, not just from adults, but from their peers.
As many of you know, at the beginning of the summer, Amy, who wrote BreastCancerSisterhood’s AMY’S BLOG, big sister to other kids and teens whose parents have cancer, decided to pass her blogging torch on to someone else. After two years, 111 blogs and a semester in Europe, Amy decided to focus on her Senior year in college. She and her mother Kathy, a breast cancer survivor, opened their hearts and shared their stories about Kathy’s breast cancer and how they moved forward as a splintered family. When I saw them at James’ memorial service, I can’t tell you how supported and loved they made me feel. They’ve become part of my family, and I love them both. While I understood it was time for Amy to move on, I knew she would be a hard act to follow. After much searching, I’ve found another special young woman I want to introduce you to… Alexandra.
Alexandra is 17, a senior in high school who loves to write Science Fiction and Fantasy and is taking creative writing in school. Like Amy, her mother’s breast cancer has made her wise beyond her years. Alexandra was 10 when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In addition, her mom was pregnant. Their family has experienced breast cancer’s storms and have weathered them, together, and are stronger than ever.
Alexandra and I are so exited she is joining me. I hope you will pass ALEX’S BLOG or our Newsletter along to other cancer families. Her youthful voice may be the only one out there who speaks to children and other teens who need to read her words and know they aren’t alone.