Book Review: The Cancer That Wouldn't Go Away

A Story for Kids About Metastatic Cancer

One of the hardest questions put to me from newly diagnosed women continues to be, “How do I tell my young children I have breast cancer?” The hardest question will always be, “How do I tell my children I have metastatic breast cancer, a cancer that will never go away? How do I make them understand, without frightening them too much, that my treatment will never be over?"

I am not a therapist, or a social worker; I am an educator by training and experience. So my first suggestion when a woman asks me about how and when she should speak with her child about her metastatic disease, is to recommend that she speak first with a therapist or counselor, preferably one recommended by a member of her oncology care team.  My second suggestion is usually to recommend reading a book or two about speaking with your child about breast cancer. While books are not a substitute for seeking professional advice, they do offer insights as to what helps children cope with a parent’s cancer.

There are a few books, written by survivors, that speak to what children can expect as mom goes through treatment for an early stage cancer, not a metastatic cancer. These books deal with changes in mom’s appearance, her loss of energy, and other things that will affect the children’s lives during her time-limited, active treatment.

There are books that deal with the end of life. Until recently, I had not come across any books that deal with young children coping with a parent’s cancer that is now being treated as a chronic disease.

In her book, The Cancer That Wouldn’t Go Away, Hadassa Field managed to successfully combine a story about metastatic disease, and a “how to” section on using the story to get young children talking about their fears, their anger, and their feelings of sadness when a parent has metastatic cancer.

The story is fictitious. It is several pages long, and includes sensitive illustrations, by Christina G. Smith. The illustrations of home and family are ones familiar to most young children. They complement  the story.

Following the story, a section, written by Rinat R.Green, Psy. D., a Child, Adolescent and Family Trauma Specialist offers suggestions on how to use the story as a parent, a therapist, or an educator.

The story is about a young boy named Max, his dad, and his mom who has cancer again, and how they are coping with metastatic cancer as a family. The story does not identify the type of metastatic cancer mom has, which keeps it relevant to a wider audience of readers.

The focus of the story is on what Max is feeling including confusion, fear, anger and sadness. By the end of the story he is learning to cope with the uncertainty of living with his mom’s metastatic disease.

The Cancer That Wouldn’t Go Away is a labor of love, by Hadassa Field and Sara Mosak Saiger in memory of their sister, Ahuva Rachel Prager, who was diagnosed with metastatic cancer at 27 years old. Ahuva wanted to explain her situation to her young children, but couldn’t find any books that spoke about metastatic cancer realistically. The Cancer That Wouldn’t Go Away came about in an effort to help Ahuva’s two young children understand what was happening to their mother. Ahuva passed away of metastatic breast cancer at 32 years old.

The story is a sensitive and reality-based portrayal of what a young child might be experiencing if his or her mom has metastatic cancer. The story validates the feelings that a child has in this situation. Not knowing how a parent will be from one day to the next is a lot of uncertainty for a child. The story stresses living in today, enjoying the good days with mom, and knowing that there will be days that she doesn’t feel well.

The “how to” section of the book offers practical information to parents on how and when to speak with a young child using the story as a lead in to a discussion about metastatic breast cancer. It suggests that therapists use the story as a tool for working not only with each child in the family, individually, but in family sessions as well. Educators, guidance counselors and school psychologists may also find the story helpful when working with a child living with a parent’s metastatic cancer.

The Cancer That Wouldn't Go Away is available on Amazon.

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