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“Some days are diamonds and some days are stone. The gift is choice — a gift so great that not even cancer can take it away,” says Patti Halula, imparting advice to daughter Grace.

Patti Halula
Patient Advisor and Co-Chair, Patient and Family Advisory Council

Living with metastatic breast cancer brings its own set of challenges and emotions that show up every day in the most random ways. Being a parent raising children takes those challenges and emotions to another level. When I was first diagnosed, I was in shock. At the time, I was living my best life with my husband, Michael, and our 5-year-old daughter, Grace.

For three weeks, I couldn’t put Grace to bed because I found myself crying at the thought of not watching her grow up. I would miss all the celebratory milestones in life, like the first day of school, her first serious relationship, her graduation and more. The list just went on and on in my head.

During those three weeks, I decided I was going to teach her as many life lessons as I could. I focused on her and threw myself into volunteering at her school. In many ways, that little 5-year-old had no idea how she was lifting her mom up. The days were long during my chemotherapy. At the end of the day, Grace went to bed by 7 p.m. and I followed behind her only an hour later, feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.

Grace Halula

Patti Halula’s daughter, Grace, says even though her mom’s diagnosis affected her childhood experiences, she wouldn’t trade it for anything.

When you have cancer, you worry. You want to protect your loved ones from sadness. And for your child, you worry all the time. Are they scared? Are their grades low because they are hurting and too afraid to say? I was always open with Grace. I felt that doing so would help her not be so scared, especially as my looks changed. Maybe if she saw me every day at school, it would bring a sense of normalcy to this new life.

When she was in fifth grade, she asked for a cellphone and I said no. My intelligent girl went to her room and within an hour, she created a presentation of all the reasons she should have a phone. Her last reason sent me right over the emotional cliff that I was already delicately hanging from.

“Mom, do you know what it is like for me when you go to Moffitt?” asked Grace. “When the teacher tells me you’re running late to pick me up, I don’t know why. Is it because you are stuck in traffic? Was the doctor late? Is it because your cancer is back?”

After all my efforts to maintain transparency with her, it turned out she was worried every time I had an appointment. After some tears and hugs, we got Grace a cellphone to ease her mind.

There is no rule book when it comes to raising children, especially when you have cancer. You get up and do the best that you can. As I have told Grace many times through her own struggles as a young adult, some days are diamonds and some days are stone. The gift is choice — a gift so great that not even cancer can take it away. If she learns that lesson, then I have given her the one tool that will get her through life.