I wanted to shield my family from the disease, but soon found out that when it comes to kids, honesty is (almost) always the best policy.

When you become a mother, you worry about keeping your children safe from getting hurt. You focus on making sure they’re eating their fruits and vegetables. You stress out about their nap times. What you don’t anticipate when you become a mother is having to explain to your child that you have cancer.

Being a work-from-home mother, I thrive on routine. I also thrive on the six glorious hours I have to myself each day when my oldest is at school. But one day that changed.

My mother-in-law, Beverly, had gone to pick my son up from school and bring him home. When they arrived, Declan, who was three and a half years old at the time, went to play in his room by himself. My youngest one was napping. After he was settled in his room playing, Beverly asked me, “Have you told Declan that you have cancer?”

“No, we haven’t yet,” I told her. “I’m still trying to figure out how to say it, and whether or not I want to use that word. Right now, we’re just saying that I’m sick and the doctors are helping me get better.”

Beverly gave me a little look. When she went to pick Declan up at school, she said, his teacher asked if she could do anything to help our family. Beverly wasn’t sure how much my husband and I had shared with the school, so she said rather vaguely that our family was still in the beginning stages of understanding the next steps, and to keep us in her prayers.

Back in the car ride home, Beverly asked Declan if his teacher asked about mommy at all.

“Yes, and I told her Mommy has cancer. Does Mommy have cancer?”

That broke my heart y’all. I was sad that he even had to use that word in the first place. I was sad that he used that word and I didn’t get a chance to explain it first.

mom and son holding pink rose, looking at the pink rose

Make sure to read the rest over at my column for HealthCentral Tales From The Chemo Chair: How To Talk To Kids About Cancer