By Joan Slowey Dellett ~
Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer can be devastating. Trying to incorporate doctors’ visits and treatments into your daily work and home life can be a daunting and exhaustive ordeal. But what if you also have a young child that is suddenly being asked not to pull on Mommy’s arm or to jump onto your lap to snuggle? How do you explain cancer to a child? Janice Woerner faced with this dilemma after undergoing a double mastectomy while raising her 3-year-old daughter.
Janice’s cancer journey began in 2010 when, at 38, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). After completing a treatment course of a lumpectomy and radiation, Janice learned that the treatment would more likely than not prevent her from conceiving a child naturally. She returned to her career as an Occupational Therapist and accepted that biological motherhood was probably not in the cards for her. However, the fates had other plans for her and in 2011 she became pregnant. After a high-risk pregnancy due to her cancer history and “advanced maternal age,” her daughter, Hayden, was born in 2012. Janice continued to get regular mammograms and checkups. Life was good!
Unfortunately, during her 5-year checkup, it was found that the cancer had returned in her right breast. This time, Janice elected to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Due to the damage that the previous radiation had inflicted on her body, the reconstruction was difficult. She suffered an infection in her tissue expanders that required additional reconstructive surgeries. Caring for, holding and playing with a 3-year-old became challenging, to say the least. To help her daughter understand why she wasn’t able to climb all over her Mommy or why Mommy couldn’t pick her up, Janice told Hayden Mommy had “boo-boos on her boobies”. Even a 3-year-old can understand that boo-boos hurt and that care has to be taken in the area of the boo-boo. That mantra, “Mommy has boo-boos on her boobies,” which Hayden liked to share with anyone that would listen, helped Janice and Hayden get through multiple surgical procedures and eventual recovery.
Breast cancer used to be an older woman’s disease but now there seems to be an increase in the diagnosis of cancer in women under 40. Janice came to realize the prevalence of young Moms going through treatment and how it was impacting their lives. She had already been publishing a blog to keep family and friends informed of her progress during her ordeal. Now, she thought, a children’s book might be a way to help other Moms and their children, who might not understand Moms tiredness and restrictions. With the beautiful illustrations of friend Tom Wallace, Janice self-published Mommy Has Boo-Boos On Her Boobies, a simple, straight forward way of explaining to a child what is happening to Mommy, what treatment and recovery might look like and how eventually Mommy will be able to get back to playing and hugging again.
Drawing on her own experience post-surgery and her background in occupational therapy, Janice realized she needed to advocate for post-surgery therapy as well. She created the website JerseyGirlHealthandWealth.com for those affected by cancer including those currently being treated, newly diagnosed, caregivers, friends and family to educate and uplift as well as curate health and wellness resources for breast cancer patients at any stage of their journey. Patients and caregivers can also contribute their personal stories and experiences.
Janice is now parlaying her Occupational Therapy practice into private cancer coaching and free patient education workshops to help women prepare and recover from their mastectomy or lumpectomy surgeries, focusing on post-mastectomy or lumpectomy physical rehabilitation to gain function, increase range of motion and decrease pain. Janice’s hope is that Mommy Has Boo-Boos On Her Boobies will lead to more speaking engagements so she can help others know what to expect, how to prepare and pre- and post-surgery therapies.
Mommy Has Boo-Boos On Her Boobies is available from Amazon. If you would like to contribute an article to JGH&W.com or request Janice to speak at your event, she can be contacted at 914-772-3870 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org