Moms With Breast Cancer: 10 Ways to Deal

by PJ Hamel Patient Expert

As a mother, battling breast cancer is an overwhelming experience. Your very worst fear – deserting your children – becomes an all-too-real possibility. Here’s some practical advice for moms (with kids of all ages) trying to stay on an even emotional keel during breast cancer treatment – and beyond.

Breast cancer’s not your fault

You didn’t bring this on yourself and, just as importantly, your children. The six-packs you downed as a teen, the brief interlude of smoking, the less-than-healthy diet – don’t beat yourself up. You need all your strength for dealing with cancer, not blaming yourself for being a bad mom.

Take a deep breath

A breast cancer diagnosis can bring on panic and rash behavior. Stop and think before you talk. Don’t break down in front of young children; don’t IM your teen, or email your adult daughter. Take the time to gain some perspective.

Plan how to break the news

How and when you relay this life-changing news to your kids is just as important as what you say. Carefully plan the day and time; who’s going to be there; and what you’re going to say, writing yourself a script if necessary. Read one son’s story of his mom’s breast cancer diagnosis.

Say yes to help

When other moms offer play dates without expectation of a return date, or take your turn car-pooling to soccer practice, simply say thank you, knowing you’d do the same for them. It’s OK to let go of some of your extracurricular responsibilities for awhile.

Don’t worry about how you look

To younger kids, you’re just Mommy. Older kids and teens may be a bit uncomfortable with your appearance, but at that age, everything about you makes them cringe, right? Look your best for your own sake; the kids will be fine.

You’re probably not going to die

The vast majority of moms get through breast cancer* and go on with their lives. High school graduation, marriage, whatever milestones you see for your kids – odds are you’ll be there, raising a toast and crying happy tears.

*National Cancer Institute breast cancer fact sheet

Teens are cooler than you think

Many moms report that their teenagers totally step up during their breast cancer treatment. The self-centered whining gives way to concern. All the good things you’ve taught them about caring? They suddenly appear. Good job, Mom!

Don’t share everything

Want to protect your kids from the worst parts of your treatment? Go right ahead; ignorance is bliss. There’s no moral high ground demanding you tell the complete truth when the question is, “How’s it going?”

Shed the SuperMom cape

You’ve always been the one enforcing bedtime rules, moderating friendships, nagging about homework… If you don’t have the energy for all of that right now, it’s OK. Your significant other, or even a best friend, can step up. And if there’s no one else – the kids will still survive.

This is your cancer – and your life

Adult children may want to take over your treatment. If you want them to make all the decisions – fine. But if you’re feeling pushed, nicely tell them to back off. The fact they’re your offspring doesn’t give them the right to make your life-or-death decisions.

PJ Hamel
Meet Our Writer
PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via