Her daughter was so afraid mommy would die while she was at preschool that she couldnt stop crying and would make herself sick so she wouldnt have to go.
Single mom Leila Tarvin had her two young children to worry about as well as how to deal with Stage 4 breast cancer. Daughter Cameron was four. Son Jayden turned three the day the day she received her diagnosis. She was still learning how to be a single mom and going through a divorce.
Tarvin hadnt worried about breast cancer because there was no family history of the disease. But in preparation for her annual doctors visit, she did a self-exam in the morning. Thats when she felt the lump. Her Alegent Creighton Health gynecologist William Kuyper, M.D. advised a mammogram. In rapid succession, she had the mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy.
She was doing payroll at the Mid America Center on a November morning in 2011 when Dr. Kuyper called her and told her the results were not good. "He wanted to talk with me in person," she said. Tarvin remembered closing her office door and sitting on the floor crying. "I didnt want to drive. I asked my mom to pick me up. I had a double mastectomy within two weeks."
She left the hospital on Thanksgiving. "Out of the 22 lymph nodes they removed, 19 were cancerous. I had cancer in both breasts and it had spread to my bones." Reconstructive surgery and radiation followed. She was fatigued and she remembered it being a very tough time.
Because little Cameron was so affected by her mothers cancer, Cancer Social Worker Lori Simpson, MSW, CSW, OSW-C, gave Tarvin tips on how to talk with her children about the cancer and provided written materials that would help.
Tarvin also had Cameron attend an Alegent Creighton Health Cancer Center support group for children. "I wanted her to know there are other kids going through the same thing," she said. "I told her, ‘Mommy has something called cancer. I needed surgery and Ill be tired but Grandmas here to help us." Licensed Mental Health Practitioner Peg Shepherd led the group. "Cameron was very comfortable with Peggy. They played, painted, colored, read a couple of books and talked."
This fall Jayden also started attending the group. "Its really helped. This year has been amazing. Camerons not crying. She loves her teacher at school and is dealing with change better," Tarvin said.
Cancer Nurse Navigator Kristin Peterson, RN, MSN, OCN, helped Tarvin with appointments and questions. Peterson also suggested the two children would benefit from a visit with Tarvins oncologist Yungpo Su, M.D. "They created a booklet, ‘Questions to Ask Mommys Doctor," she said. "He was good with them. He liked the book and he answered all their questions."
She recommended the support groups to any parent going through what shes going through. "Its a safe place where Cameron and Jayden can talk about whats going on. They can ask questions."
Tarvin sees Dr. Su every month, receives Faslodex injections and has CT scans every other month. She suffers a lot of pain in her hips and up and down her spine. "But I havent had any new growth," she smiled.
She remains very optimistic. "People beat this all the time. And any day now there could be a cure."
Alegent Creighton Health offers a number of support groups for cancer patients and their families. You can find more information at www.alegentcreighton.com/cancer-support-groups or by calling 1-800-ALEGENT (1-800-253-4368)