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I told my kids I had cancer the day I was diagnosed

On the day Bonnie Galletly was told she had breast cancer, she drove home from the appointment, sat her kids down and told them.

She didn’t even consider not telling them.

“I told my kids straight away,” Bonnie said. “I feel that it is really important to talk about these things and be open and honest."

Three months after her initial diagnosis, she is currently receiving fortnightly chemotherapy which is the first chemo treatment she will receive to treat her Stage 3 cancer.

On the day we catch up, she is wearing a bright floral headscarf which covers her bald head which has a sprinkling of soft downy hair. But she still has her eyebrows and lashes which highlight her blue eyes.

Her children are at school as we sit down with a cup of tea for a chat. Lachlan, 14, is at high school while Grace, 12 and Fynn, 9, are at primary school with my son.

“I didn’t tell them that I was going for tests because I didn’t want them to be upset if it was nothing,” she said.

But it wasn’t nothing – it was breast cancer which, fortunately, had been caught early.

The day she received the diagnosis, she came home with her husband, Matt, and gathered the kids in the lounge room.

“We wanted to talk to them about something.

“Fynn, my youngest son, said: ‘Do you want to tell us you’ve got cancer or something’.

“He was just mucking around because we don’t often gather the kids in the lounge room to have a discussion.

“And I said: ‘Yes I do’.

“I then explained that I had breast cancer, that I was going to be ok and that I needed to have treatment.”

Hiding cancer from her children was not something Bonnie even contemplated.

“I knew there were going to be a lot of medical appointments and we couldn’t pretend they weren’t happening. We had to tell them what was going on. It never occurred to me to hide it from the kids,” she said.

“Deep down I knew that they would be able to deal with it and I knew that being open and honest was the best way to deal with that.”

Bonnie said her children focused on the fact that she would lose her hair at first.

“My oldest son, he was worried about what I would look like. At 14, he is at that age where you want to fit in and I don’t think he wanted me to look different.

“Grace was probably the most accepting. She didn’t seem to be particularly bothered and wanted to come with me and look for a wig.

“Fynn, my youngest can be pretty emotional. I lie in bed with him every night and read to him still, and he said:

“I don’t want you to lose your hair but I understand that you have to have the treatment but I don’t know if I can lie next to you with a bald head so you might have to wear something.

“He didn’t want things to change.”

Bonnie said that when she first lost her hair, she tried to protect her children by wearing a scarf around the house. But, with time, everyone has got used to her hair loss.

“Now I just walk around with a bald head,” she said.

Although her children very adaptable, Bonnie said they were all most concerned about her losing her hair.

“At the time, they were quite blasé about the cancer. Matt and I were waiting for this big reaction. But they were kind of like – mum’s got cancer but that was it.

“But nothing changed for a little bit. I had surgery and I was fine the next day and recovered quite well.

“Then, when I was waiting to start the chemo, we were talking about how I might get quite sick and there would be days where I wouldn’t be able to do much around the house and I might just have to lie in bed.

“We were trying preparing them for the cancer fatigue, but we ended up with lots of discussions about how I was going to lose my hair.”

Bonnie revealed that in the last couple of weeks, the children had started to ask more questions about cancer as they have had time to absorb the information and process what it means.

“Last night Fynn asked me: Are you going to die from breast cancer. And I was explaining that I was not going to die. I said that if I didn’t have the treatment then I probably would at some stage but this treatment is stopping me from doing that.

“I also said that it could come back in the future and I may need treatment again.”

Bonnie’s father-in-law passed away from cancer in 2020. While she viewed her breast cancer differently from her father-in-law’s terminal cancer, her daughter had connected the two.

“Grace didn’t ask me but she did speak to her teacher about it. She told her teacher that that when mum told me about it I thought about Pa. Her teacher had that conversation with her but I had no idea at the time. I only found out after her teachers spoke to me.

“It’s important for them to know that they can talk to someone else. Grace can talk to her teacher and they are very close to my sister in law. I have said that anything you don’t want to tell me, you can ask them.”

Bonnie’s oldest son Lachie has spoken to his close friends but Fynn, her youngest hasn’t. “I don’t think they are at that age where they talk about these things.”

For Bonnie, keeping her cancer a secret was never an option.

“I was happy to talk to anyone about it. I don’t use Facebook and so never put it on Facebook as that was a bit too ‘out there’ but I was happy to tell people as I caught up with people. I was fine for people to know.

By telling people, Bonnie also now has a wide support mechanism. She receives regular visits, check in texts and food drops.

“People have been amazing."

Even though she is in the middle of treatment and I have caught her on a good day in the chemo cycle, Bonnie wanted to share her stories because it was something she wanted to read about and hear about when she was diagnosed.

Read more about the book Jane wrote to help tell your kids you have cancer.

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