How one mom with metastatic cancer talks to her children about cancer

My friend Lisa Adams, who coached me through so much of my treatment for breast cancer, recently learned that her breast cancer returned as metastatic disease. She has been writing about cancer eloquently and beautifully since she was diagnosed, and so much of what she's published since her disease advanced has been powerful, brutal, essential reading. Her most recent post, which appears on HuffPo, is about an hour-long talk with her daughter that started with her first question, "Are you scared?"

She asked questions about genetics and risks of getting cancer to what kind of treatments I might need. She asked me again, as if to confirm for herself, "It's not curable, right?" We talked about my writing, about being public with my health status, about being open and honest with her and her brothers.

I told her that yes, I was scared. I explained that my fear usually comes from the unknown, in this case just how I will respond to treatments. I told her it was okay to be scared. That it's normal. That sometimes that fear makes you brave enough to do things you don't think you can otherwise do.

I told her that I understood that sickness could be scary, that I didn't want her to be afraid of me as I got sicker someday. "I would never be afraid of you, Mom. I'm only afraid of cancer," she said. My heart squeezed and thrashed and the tears flowed.

More: Lisa Bonchek Adams: The Hardest Conversation.


  1. Totally sucks that your buddy’s cancer came back and appears to be more invasive. I hope she gets through it, and if prospects are as bad as they seem, I hope she can prepare her family for their impending loss. Though can anyone really be prepared for this kind of thing?

    Fuck cancer!

  2. My wife died yesterday of metastasized colon cancer. This post reminds me so much of all the plans we had a few months ago, when we thought she still had two or three years left. And then her health just continued to deteriorate. She started a blog, but quickly became too sick to update it. She planned to make a memory box for our 17-month-old daughter, but couldn’t complete that, either. The last two weeks at home, under hospice care, where I had to watch her body slowly shut down and her mind dulled by the painkillers that were the only way to keep her close to comfortable, were the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I really wish for the best for your friend.

    1. I am sorry for the death of your wife. As parents I don’t think we can ever accomplish everything we would like to. I fear the future but also know I have a lot to get done in the time I have. Writing is part of that process for me. Thank you for commenting and for reading. 

  3. 6 years ago when my wife received the metastatic diagnosis we choose not to tell our boys (11 and 13 at the time) that the disease was incurable.  You looked at all the studies and the ever growing list of treatments and you see that some folks always slip through the statistics.  We told them it was serious but there was always hope. I made that true for me as well.  She left work and stayed home to raise the boys. The illness and the ups and downs of treatment became our normal. We lived several life times within that span that were not focused on the disease. She was very frustrated at the end that she would not get to finish the job of raising our youngest and he took her passing hard but I think ultimately we will have few regrets. I miss her and I am doing my best to not waste her efforts.

    No regrets.

  4.  I’ve spent the night reading Lisa’s blog. My dad is at the VA Hospital in Chicago tonight, dying from metastatic carcinoma, diagnosed October 2011. My heart breaks for Lisa and her family, just as it does for my own family. My dad isn’t quite as articulate as Lisa, so it was nice to read some things that gave me insight into my father. For that I am grateful. Sending all the good thoughts that I have to Lisa. Thanks for sharing.

    1. thank you for reading, and I am so sorry for your dad. I have thought of you every day since you posted this and wondered what his condition was. I am glad if my words somehow made you feel not alone during this time that can be very isolating. xo lisa

  5. Wow. Excellent article. I agree wholeheartedly about not keeping the disease or prognosis secret. My Mom died of metastatic colon cancer when she was 48. She kept the cancer secret for more than a year–and then kept its progression secret. Her death seemed so unexpected and devastatingly tragic to our family since everyone thought she would recover.

  6. This is amazing. I remember having this very same conversation with my eldest daughter. I hope I never have to have it again. I wish you better health and many blessings along your journey. That daughter of yours sounds pretty amazing. I see where she gets it from. Namaste

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