By Tara Aitken, diagnosed at age 32  

Tara and boys

It was a beautiful start to the month of May. We were celebrating my youngest son’s second birthday. The carnival theme was set and the cake looked just as I hoped it would. All of our friends and family were there, making this special day even more perfect.

Little did I know that just two weeks later our whole world would change.

On May 21, 2015, I heard the words “Tara, you have breast cancer” while sitting in my doctor’s office with my husband by my side. I remember looking at him with a blank stare and saying, “Oh my goodness, what do we tell the boys?” After speaking with a social worker at the hospital, we decided to follow her advice and be honest with them.

Forming Team Aitken

When we got home I found the words “Mommy has cancer” falling out of my mouth. I couldn’t believe what I was saying! What were they going to say? What was going through their little minds? My heart hurt and my hands were sweating as I fought to hold back the tears.

And then my 5-year-old said, “It’s okay mommy, we love you,” and rubbed my back as if to say “I’m here for you.” Both boys gave me huge hugs, and I breathed the biggest sigh of relief. The news was out and now we could face this together as a family — better yet as “Team Aitken.”

Throughout my treatment, I found that being honest with the boys was the best way to handle the situation. I didn’t share every detail with them, of course. However, little kids are more perceptive than we think and lying to them or just telling them that mommy was “sick” wouldn’t have been effective. Everyone gets “sick,” even children. If I told them that I was “sick,” would they think that this is what “sick” looked like if they got sick? I wanted to make sure they understood that having cancer is different from just being sick. I explained it by saying there were yucky cells in mommy’s body and that the doctor was working hard to get them out. It was going to take a little while, but with medicine and help from the doctor hopefully they would be gone soon.

Shaving to Support Mom

My children supported me every step of the way. When I had my double mastectomy, they helped around the house and understood that mommy wasn’t able to hold them. When I started chemotherapy, they tolerated mommy being tired and not being able to play as much. And when it came time to shave my head, my boys wanted to shave theirs! My 5 year old said, “I want to shave my head to show you how brave I can be too.” My heart melted. They understood that mommy was fighting and being brave because that’s what “Team Aitken” was all about.

Reflecting on this past year and our journey through breast cancer, I am so proud of myself and my family — and my children were the bravest of all. I can honestly say that my courage, strength and bravery came from them. My two little rock stars were there to offer endless hugs, laughter and kisses that mended my heart and made me fight to live… for them.