This simple yet simply terrifying diagnosis can feel like a family curse, a genetic time bomb or a looming death sentence to a woman of any age. But even more so to a mother of young children whose first thought and foremost priority is not about herself. It's about her children-their reaction, their future, their daily lives.
How will she wake them for school each morning while undergoing radiation treatment? How will she be able to tuck them in each night after a draining day of chemotherapy? How will she shower them with attention, if not affection, while battling for her very life?
Such scenarios are more common than ever these days with the rising numbers of younger women diagnosed with breast cancer, according to a new study. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it shows that advanced breast cancer in women ages 25 to 39 has risen roughly 2 percent each year since 1976. There's no definitive explanation as to why, nor a reversal in sight, experts theorize.
This age demographic is prime time for motherhood, meaning more moms than ever before are forced to juggle this deadly disease with their child-rearing duties.
How do they do it?
Chicago Parent talked with three moms, each diagnosed with breast cancer "at the absolute worst time of our lives," as one of them describes it. They may have lost their hair and their energy, but they never lost their hope, thanks to their children, they say. Here are their stories.You might also like:
Kim Jewett's 6-year-old daughter had a simple request one night.
"Mommy, can you tuck me into bed?" asked the girl.
"I'm sorry," replied Jewett, weak from repeated chemotherapy treatments. "I'm just too sick and too tired."
"Mommy, you're always too tired," her daughter said with puppy-dog eyes. "You don't tuck me into bed anymore."
The Plainfield mom told her daughter to head toward bed while she tried to muster the strength to get off her recliner.
"OK, I'll be there in a minute," she told her.
After Jewett finally made her way to her daughter's room, she overheard her little girl praying.
"Dear God…" the girl whispered. "Please give Mommy strength to fight breast cancer."
Jewett fell to her knees, broke down into tears, and also prayed.
"Dear God…" Jewett pleaded. "Please give me the strength so my 6-year-old daughter doesn't have to pray for my survival."
This took place in 2008 and, in time, both their prayers were answered. But not before Jewett, at 31, underwent a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and six months of chemotherapy. All while caring for her daughter Kalli Bogard, now 11, and son, Tyler, who's 9.
"I quickly realized after my diagnosis that I still need to raise my children," says Jewett, now 36. "They still need me on a daily basis. It's impossible to lose sight of this."
Her children proved to be resilient through the ordeal, even after a promise she made to them couldn't be fulfilled.
"I promised them no more cancer, but it turned out I lied," says Jewett, who was diagnosed again in early 2012 with cancer in her lymph nodes.
Again she went through chemo treatments. Again she
was tired and sick. But this time her children better understood. They rallied around her.
While some parents shelter their children from the scary world of cancer, Jewett used the experience as an opportunity to educate her kids about life, love, and giving back to others.
"It's the power of being thoughtful," Jewett explains.
Together, they make blankets and deliver them to cancer patients in local hospitals. As cancer survivors know, chemo treatments typically leave patients cold to the bone. The project is so successful that her children's school has adopted it as its community service project.
"The experience can be empowering and inspiring for children," says Jewett, who will be taking part in the Komen Chicago Race for the Cure on Mother's Day.
Her daughter already has been empowered and inspired.For a recent school project, Kalli was asked what she wants to be when she grows up.
"I would like to be a medical oncologist because my mom had breast cancer," she wrote. "I want to help others like the doctors who helped my mom beat it twice. And I would like to help other kids not worry about their parents."