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When Would You Have This Talk With Your Kids?

Erin Zammett Ruddy

As you guys know I'm a cancer survivor. I'm proud of that status. But my kids are young and I worry about them worrying about me, so I hesitate to tell them too much about my disease. Because I’m not sick now, I wonder if it’s even necessary to tell them that I was sick once. Why worry them unnecessarily, right? But cancer is a huge part of my life, particularly right now, so it's kind of unavoidable. 

Last week, as part of my big $100,000 fundraising competition, we held a soccer clinic in honor of Ethan Zohn, Survivor winner, cancer survivor, soccer star and all-around awesome guy. I met Ethan a few years ago after he’d been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s. He and his girlfriend, Jenna Morasca (also a Survivor winner!), have completely rallied for the cause and last year they helped put together a kids’ soccer clinic to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Before that day was even over, Ethan said he’d love to be a part of it again this year. But Ethan couldn’t be at the clinic last week because in September his cancer returned. He just got out of the hospital where he had a second stem cell transplant and he's home recovering (I got to see him last week and he looks great). 

Despite his physical absence, Ethan was all over the clinic, which was hosted by the amazing guys at NOGA soccer in Mamaroneck, NY. We sold his children’s soccer books, which he generously donated (see below to enter to win a free copy!), and raffled off some Survivor swag and cool soccer gear. By the end of the two hours, we’d raised $5,000 for LLS. But the bigger success is that the kids understood the mission. They knew why they were there and they knew why Ethan wasn’t. As the 80 kids cycled through the stations, they came to a table to sign a big get well card for Ethan. And at the end of the day, they posed for a photo holding cards that read KICK CANCER’S BUTT (they loved that, naturally). My friend, Ellen, who put the whole thing together said other parents told her they were glad we didn’t gloss over the cancer stuff. When the kids asked about Ethan, we told them his cancer came back and he was fighting it again. And we said the money we raised that day would help others like Ethan get better. We also said he’d be there next year.

Alex, who is obsessed with soccer and pretty good at it for a four and half year old, participated in the clinic (where he must have paid attention because he scored his first goal in his game on Saturday!). On the ride home, he and I had this conversation:

ME: Al, do you know why we’re doing this?

AL: So we can raise a lot of money.

ME: Why do we want to raise a lot of money?

AL: So you can win.

ME: Um, OK, yes, but what does getting all that money mean?

AL: That you raised the most and that you win!

ME: Dude, what’s the money going to be used for?

AL: For sick people who have cancer and need help and don’t have enough money.

ME: OK, yes, that’s part of it, but it’s also to help scientists find medicine for sick people so they can get better faster.

AL: Like you did, right mom? When you had breast cancer last spring.

Um…fortunately I did not have breast cancer last spring. I had leukemia 10 years ago and it’s basically gone. I don’t even know where he heard about breast cancer, but I guess I’m glad he at least understands our connection. Sort of. (He is only four and half, so I’ll cut him some slack.) As a cancer survivor, I do wonder what message to send my kids. They know I take a pill every morning but I don’t make a big deal out of it. They are young so I certainly don’t have to worry about them worrying about me too much yet, but as you guys know, Alex asks a lot about death. I don't want to add fuel to his little fire by telling him I was once really sick and now take a pill that essentially keeps me alive. Though I think it's amazing that I have that pill and someday will explain it all to them, I'm hesitant to be too honest too soon. As a kid I would lie awake at night worrying about my parents getting sick and dying. I obsessed about it. And my parents were both super healthy. If I knew that either of them had had cancer, that would probably put me over the edge. But I’m conflicted. I want my kids to know that part of me, to know that you can overcome obstacles and for them to understand how important it is to get involved and give back. I also want them to be comfortable talking about cancer (something I wasn't as a kid). I think I have some time and I think a lot of this will happen naturally, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

And, to be entered to win one of Ethan’s soccer books, leave a comment on the blog with the phrase "Kick Cancer's Butt!" by 5 pm EST Tuesday, April 24, 2012. I will alert the two winners by email at end of day tomorrow and ship you your copy! Take a look at the books here—they are awesome! 

Also, if you’re a soccer fan in the tri-state area, we’re auctioning off two VIP tickets to a Red Bulls game on ebay and 100 percent of the proceeds go to LLS. Check it out.

Learn more about my campaign to raise $100,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and watch a video that tells our story!

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