Alanna Oldfield was 37 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her children were five and eight.
“I decided not to use the word cancer for the first six months,” says Ms Oldfield, who was afraid someone at school might tell her kids that cancer equals a death sentence.
Three years later, she’s finished chemotherapy and radiation, had a mastectomy and is currently undergoing a breast reconstruction.
For Ms Oldfield, a teacher, the answer to a sensitive situation was to keep the kids involved, but not explain everything in detail.
“They came with me to my first chemo session and my daughter helped me with bandages after my operation – not because I asked her but because she was interested.”
Ms Oldfield says her method may not work for everyone, but she has no regrets.
“The only time I cried in front of my children was when I told them about the diagnosis. After that they didn’t see me cry. When I put my wig on they’d laugh and we’d have fun with it.”
Turning 40 this year, Ms Oldfield is now approaching the third anniversary of her diagnosis and is taking time off from work to focus on staying fit and well throughout her reconstruction.
“I’m interested in exercise and I think keeping fit will help with getting through the operation. I’m just happy spending time with the kids and helping out their school sometimes.”
Although revealing a cancer diagnosis to children was extremely difficult, Ms Oldfield says both her kids and her husband helped her get through the ordeal.
Mother of three Kate Harcourt knows this well, after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of 2014.
Since then, she’s almost finished 15 months of treatment.
“It’s a difficult road but I am buoyed by the amazing support I am receiving from friends, family and the wider cancer community,” she says.
“I really don’t know what I’d do without them. They give me strength to face the challenges head-on.”
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, about 800 Australian women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. And lots of them will be mothers.
Ms Oldfield, who lives in Molendinar, Queensland, says she didn’t know anyone her age with breast cancer when she was first diagnosed, but sung the praises of forums and networks dedicated especially to young women with cancer.
“I joined the NBCF (National Breast Cancer Foundation) online forum and that was fantastic. You can write: ‘Oh my God I just got diagnosed’ and everyone will understand what you’re going through.”
Another network she belongs to is Sassy Survivors, which connects women under the age of 45 who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Ms Oldfield says she was handed a Sassy Survivors pamphlet in hospital, and three years later she still gets together with women through the network.
She believes every family is different and has to make their own decisions around how much or little to involve children.
“You’re not given a whole lot of information about how to deal with cancer and kids, but if you seek it out, there’s a lot of support,” she says.
The New Daily is a media partner of the Women in Super Mother’s Day Classic, which takes place in 100 locations around Australia on Sunday May 8, raising money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation to help fund breast cancer research.