10 Steps Explaining Breast Cancer to a Child.
It’s October, the month of pink. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And the first friday of the month, Lee National Denim Day. Nobody will have missed the pink ribbons and pins on sale in every shop, and the sudden emergence of pink on many other products on sale too for that matter. It’s easy to see the pink. Maybe your children know it’s in support of breast cancer research, but do your children know what breast cancer is?
When Miss 6 starts asking why everything’s pink, what breast cancer is, the how and the why I want to be prepared!
10 Steps Explaining Breast Cancer to a Child
1. Children’s bodies are growing all the time. It happens too slowly to see a difference from one day to the next, but if you’re away for the whole summer, for example, then everybody notices.
How our cells grow and multiply is controlled by our genes. When our genes are behaving properly they start to switch off the growth in lots of our cells when girls are about 16, and boys are about 22 – That’s why we don’t get any taller after that.
Cells are still dividing, and new cells being produced all the time, but it happens much much slower once we’ve stopped growing. When one tiny cell dies, another takes it’s place, but we don’t grow any more.
2. Sometimes, as we get older, our genes stop behaving properly. Instead of being ’switched off’ some of them might switch back on again! And those ones that switch on can start dividing much quicker, making more and more cells. When we’re 50 years old and older there’s an increased risk our cells start to misbehave like this.
3. When one cell divides and divides and divides, making a whole clump of exactly the same kind of cell, it’s called a tumor.
Tumors don’t have to be dangerous. Sometimes the cells still look quite normal, and even thought they’re ’switched on’ and dividing and dividing… They’re not dividing very quickly, and they stay where they are.
But sometimes they don’t stay where they are. They start to press into other kinds of cells and tissue around them. These tumors aren’t good.
4. When breast cells divide and divide like this and form a tumor that starts pressing into the other cells around it, it’s called Breast Cancer.
5. If there’s a tumor in a persons breast, they might be able to feel a little lump there or even under the arm. The breast might seem a bit swollen, irritated or red, it might even hurt a little bit.
But most of the time it doesn’t hurt at all, and even if there is a tumor, it might be such a little lump that you can’t even feel it.
6. When ladies are about 50 years old, just to make sure that their genes are behaving properly, and that there are no tumors in their breasts, they’re invited to come to the hospital for a screening test called a mammogram. A mammogram takes an x-ray picture of the breast, to see if there are any lumps of cells – tumors. And ladies are invited back to the hospital again and again, about every three years to keep checking.
7. If there’s a tumor in the breast, then they do some more tests at the hospital to see what kind of a tumor it is. They may even need to take a tiny piece of the tumor out to see it and test it.
8. If it’s a tumor where the cells are dividing quickly, and it’s pushing into other cells around it, then it needs to be stopped. Sometimes it’s removed in an operation. When they take the tumor away, they may just take the lump, or they might need to take the whole breast away.
Sometimes as part of the treatment, medicines called Chemotherapy are used that weaken fast dividing cells, like the cancer cells. But they weaken other fast dividing cells in the body too. Chemotherapy is a really strong medication and people can feel lots of different side-effects from using it. Like feeling very sick or very tired, your hair might start to fall out too.
Sometimes another treatment called radiation therapy is used, that really blasts on the cancer cells to destroy them. But it still damages the healthy cells that are in the way.
9. Removing tumors and treating them with such strong medication gives a good chance of getting rid of them and making sure that a new tumor doesn’t grow. But it doesn’t always mean it’s gone forever. Sometimes a new tumor can grow or the old one start to come back.
10. That’s why pink ribbons are sold in october every year. To get people thinking about Breast Cancer. To support people who’ve had Breast Cancer. To talk about it and learn more about it. To remind people to check their breasts, get used to them, so that they’d be able to feel if there was a little lump.
We still don’t know enough about why our cells start to misbehave like this, or how we could stop it, before there’s a tumor.
Maybe there are better ways we could get rid of tumors? Medicines that only damage the cancer cells and not our healthy ones too.
Maybe there are ways we could see which medicine is best for each individual person before we give it to them. Because people react differently to each other, even when they’re given the same medicine.
The first friday in October is also Lee National Denim Day. A movement raising money and awareness for Breast Cancer, when people pay money to wear jeans to work. All of that money goes to breast cancer research.
When we go to the shops, you’ll see that there are loads of pink products with ribbons on them. But most of those don’t give any money to breast cancer research at all. They just like to look like they care about it.
And lots of people buy them. Then it looks like they care about it to. But then we still haven’t done anything about it!
If you want to support Breast Cancer Awareness and Research, and know that that’s exactly where your money is going to, I really recommend the Breast Cancer Research Foundation – Check out their hashtag too: #BeTheEnd
If you’d like more information about breast cancer, symptoms & diagnosis, treatment & side effects, and tips about how to lower your risk, I’ve found this site very informative: BreastCancer.org
Disclaimer: Breast cancer is not my area of expertise! I hope this post prompts you to think about how you might explain breast cancer, or any other form of cancer to a child.
…Have you explained breast cancer to your children? What did you find helpful?