The Huffington Post

From My Daughter: What She Learned From My Cancer

I struggled with what my cancer diagnosis did to my kids.

Being diagnosed when you have young children is more than hard.It’s heart wrenching. You wonder if you’ll live to see your kids grow up and you struggle with the worry that your diagnosis will cause them permanent damage.

This is how I felt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, over 2.5 years ago, when my daughters were 15 and 11. I’m blessed to be on this side of things, with an incredibly positive prognosis and living with deep appreciation and gratitude for what I learned because of my experience. I have to admit, the guilt I feel because of what my daughters saw and had to deal with at a young age still haunts me. 

Until this.

Until I read this beautiful essay, written by my daughter Zoe, who is almost 17. I’m sharing it with you in case you or someone you know has to go down this road and is worrying about how children may be impacted. Kids are resilient and strong. There are positive take-away lessons to be learned, even by our kids, as my daughter explains. 

I didn’t change anything or help her with this. These are her words, her thoughts, her journey…

One of the most horrifying, yet profound concepts of life is the naivety that as a child, you are shielded from all of the terrible things in life. When I was young, I thought that only bad things happened to bad people and that nothing terrible would ever happen to my family. I felt protected from all of the horrible things happening in the world. I knew that a war was going on in the Middle East and I knew that there were people going hungry every day. However, being the simple-minded fourteen year old girl that I was, I was unaware that everything I had initially believed about the world was wrong.

My perspective on life completely shifted in April of 2014 when I found out my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

I remember the day my world changed. My dad had picked me up after school, which was unusual because my mom was always the one who drove my sister and I home. When I got home that afternoon, something felt off; however, I proceeded with my usual after school routine. I remember my dad asking me to come downstairs because we were going to have a family meeting. When I first got downstairs, I jokingly asked who got diagnosed with cancer. As those words came out of my mouth, my mom burst into tears. We all sat down on the couch after a few seconds of confusion between my sister and me. My dad reassured us that my mom had the “good” type of cancer.

For me, cancer was just a sickness that caused death. I do not think that at the time I knew of anybody who had survived this horrible word.

My sister and I took the news very differently. For my sister, she let her emotions unfold rapidly and began to hyperventilate in front of my family. However, I kept my feelings somewhat reserved, and went upstairs to sob uncontrollably, feeling as if the walls were closing in on me. From the second I heard the news, a spirit of hope about the world changed inside of me. I felt like my childhood had been jolted from me against my will, and that cancer had pushed me towards adulthood and a sense of maturity I had never seen in myself before.

For three months, my sister and I slept in the same bed every night. Having each other as a security blanket may have been the only thing that kept me hopeful throughout the entire process. The day I walked in on my mom shaving her head was the hardest day of my life. Coming into her bedroom without knocking, looking at her once thick, beautifully dark brown hair lying on the bathroom floor was a moment that I will never forget. Throughout the next year, watching my mom suffer through her eight intense rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries, radiation, and trips to the hospital due to the violent vomiting and dehydration caused by the chemo, I knew that my mom was the strongest woman I had ever met.

I am lucky to say that my mom is a survivor, and although my introduction to adulthood was abrupt, I appreciate life more than I ever thought I could.

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My mom’s diagnosis felt like the punishment for a crime that my family was wrongly convicted of.

When I initially found out my mom had cancer, I saw no positives and at that moment I was not supposed to. I will never understand why bad things happen to good people, but I do understand that even though there are times in my life that I can’t control, there are lessons that come out of every situation. After this experience, I don’t take things for granted, I don’t worry about the small stuff and I appreciate the people in my life. 

While I am not glad that my family was forced to go through this ordeal, we are stronger and closer because of it, and for that I am forever thankful.

This Essay way written by Zoe Kurtz, a sixteen-year-old teen and daughter of Dara Kurtz. It was first published on the Huffington Post Blog