Katie, age 9, reading bedtime stories:

“Aunt Amanda, did Grandma M. have breast cancer too?”

“Yes, honey, she did. That was when you were a baby, and she’s all better now. That was a long time ago.”

“How old is she now?”

“Silly – you know! She’ll turn 60 this year.” I turn the page in the bedtime story, ready to keep reading. But the gears in her young mind are whirring, and she asks:

“And Aunt N., did she have breast cancer too?”

“Yes, when she was my age, and now she’s 63.”

“Oh,” she says, cuddling in. “That’s really good!”

She persists, going down the list of female relatives on my side of the family: “And Grandma M2, did she have breast cancer too?”

“Yes, when you were a little kid, and now she’s in her 80s. See – we all get better and live a long time.” I try again to restart our reading, but no, her young mind is on a track, not to be derailed. The inevitable question comes next, in a quavering and scared voice:

“Aunt Amanda, will I get breast cancer?”

Sigh. My heart sinks, and then lifts: “Gee honey, I hope not.”  I improvise: “And I don’t think so, because remember how you have genes like your mom and her sisters?” (Her mom is my sister-in-law.) “How they’re all so pretty? And how you’re so tall already?! You have different genes than I do, you’ll be fine! You have good genes, to be pretty and tall.” (Not that being pretty and tall protects one against cancer, but hey, I’m on the spot here. And my side of the family – we’re beautiful too, but we’re short. Her mom’s side is very tall.)

“I have good genes,” she repeats, sounding reassured. “Oh, that’s good. That’s very good.”


(Not that I have bad genes, but what do you say to a young and too-smart-for-her-own-good child?)



Filed under breast cancer

2 responses to “litany

  1. Cynthia

    Good answer! I hope it turns out to be true. Shortly after my bc dx, my 5 year old daughter told me that when she grows up she’s going to have lots of babies, breastfeed them all, then have breast cancer. Good golly! Poor girl, she thinks it’s just part of the natural course of life. I hate that such young girls have to even know about breast cancer, let alone worry they may get it.

  2. Thanks Cynthia! The other big hope and bright future I keep in mind is that there may some day be a cure, and things could very well get better, and that would make a huge difference for those generations that are little girls now. Maybe they won’t have to worry – wouldn’t that be nice!

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