Carrie Auslam never thought this could happen ... until it happened to her child.
A few weeks ago, we told you about Hannah, the 10-year-old girl diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. Now her mother, Carrie Auslam, talks to momlogic about her daughter's struggle, strength, and hope for the future.
momlogic: The nation has embraced Hannah for her spirit and strength. As Hannah's mom, how do you stay so strong for her and yourself?
Carrie Auslam: To be honest, Hannah keeps me strong. She is my shining spirit, she really is. I am not going to say I don't take credit for raising her the way she's been raised, but she helps me get through every day. Every morning we sit and talk about how she's feeling, and what this day is going to bring for her, and she says, "It's not too much longer until I am going to be strong and healthy again."
momlogic: Although this diagnosis is rare among children of Hannah's age, it could happen to anyone.... What advice can you share with other moms and dads?
Carrie Auslam: The word we want to spread is to have your child talk to you, and talk to your child. Hannah didn't talk to me, I found it by sheer accident. We came home from one of her softball games, which is her passion. She complained about her nipple itching. Finally, I insisted on going into the bathroom to look at it. It was red from her scratching, and when I grabbed her breast, I found the lump in the lower part. She looked completely normal -- to look at her, you wouldn't know something was wrong. I thought it was just a cyst. She had a cyst on her eye when she was about 5, so I thought it was not a big deal. I just thought we'd check it out with the doctor and it wouldn't be anything serious. Obviously, it turned into way much more.
momlogic: As parents, what is your reaction to the media attention and support your family has received?
Carrie Auslam: Honestly, we really appreciate it, but we are also burned out. At this point, I am ready to take a step back. I want to get the word out, but we need to also get our family back to where it used to be. We need some downtime. I didn't expect the flood of attention at all. My main focus is getting my daughter healthy.
momlogic: Medically, what's next for Hannah?
Carrie Auslam: She has three more rounds of chemo to go through. On Monday, we had a hat party for her. There were about 50-70 people who brought hats and scarves. Hannah shaved her head because her scalp was tingling, a sign she's losing her hair. She goes once every 3 weeks for chemo. We learned after her mastectomy that the cancer spread to her lymph node. Now, we are in controversy over whether she should do radiation, surgery, or let her be? And I also have a 2-year-old son.
momlogic: How do you balance caring for Hannah and raising your 2-year-old?
Carrie Auslam: It's tough, it's hard. We're trying to keep him in his regimen and routine. We are very routine people. He still goes to his sitter Monday-Friday from 8 AM-5 PM, which gives me time to take care of Hannah, and take her to doctor's appointments. We try to have a normal life after 5 PM when everyone is home together. My husband is still working at this point, or trying to work. He does come to Hannah's doctor's appointments.
momlogic: In the spirit of spreading education and awareness, what is your message?
Carrie Auslam: Again, our main message is to talk to your kids and have them talk to you. The doctors ultimately believe Hannah had the tumor in her breast for several months. They can't give a timeline because she's a kid. She thought it was part of growing up. If kids feel abnormal or different, they need to talk to their parents to know everything is okay. Hannah is a big girl. She's 140 pounds, and 5' 4". Because of her size, she started developing earlier than a normal 10-year-old. With that, she's thinking what she felt was all a part of growing up. She told me after I found the lump that she's rolled over on it at night in bed and it bothered her, but she thought it was part of her boobies, and it was no big deal. Open communication is key.
momlogic: If people want to lend their support to Hannah and your family, how can they do so?
Carrie Auslam: We have a website at www.ourlittlesweetpea.com. People can log on and send messages to Hannah, which she checks and uses for support. There is also a trust fund set up. It's on a page called "Gifts for Hannah" and people can donate and it goes into a trust fund for her.
Our thoughts are with Hannah and Carrie and their family in this difficult time.
How common is breast cancer in children this young?
In the pediatric population, breast cancer is extremely uncommon. It is unusual in a young girl, and most lumps or masses that are seen will be benign (non-cancerous). Less than 0.1% of all breast cancer occurs in children.
Momlogic pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson says, "Much more common are normal lumps in the breast. Prepubertal girls and girls in the early stages of puberty will often notice small, sometimes tender bumps under their nipples. These are called breast buds. My patients often worry because initially, breast buds tend to appear on one side only -- it can take weeks or months for the other side to develop. Many girls and their parents mistake these for cancerous lumps because they are unilateral (one-sided), but in almost all cases they represent a normal part of development."
Dr. Natterson continues: "Breast cancers may stretch the skin in an unusual way or cause discharge from the nipple. If your daughter has nipple discharge or unusually pulled or stretched skin on the breast, you should have a doctor take a look."
Dr. Natterson says she is a big fan of self breast exams -- but not to diagnose breast cancers in young girls, since these types of cancers are extremely rare among preteens and teens. "Rather, I believe that if you teach young girls the importance of doing regular self breast exams, they will get into the habit of actually performing them -- several years later, if a lump forms, a girl who does routine self breast exams is more likely to find that lump early," she concludes.