She’s helping kids understand why mom has cancer
MILLSTONE — If a parent should ever have to deal with the tough task of telling a young child that the parent has a serious illness, the likely first word out of the child's mouth is predictable: "Why?"
Shannon Pulaski, a mother of twin 7-year-old girls and a 4-year-old boy, is trying to make that conversation easier with a resource-driven blog and a children's book both aimed at helping explain family health histories in a fun, light, simple, and age-appropriate way.
About seven years ago, Pulaski's mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and learned she was BRCA-positive, which meant she carried a heightened risk for both ovarian and breast cancers. Pulaski decided to undergo genetic testing and found that she, too, was BRCA-positive.
That diagnosis enabled Pulaski to start being proactive about her health, constantly consulting with doctors. Within a year, Pulaski began advocating for women to practice breast and ovarian health and to identify what's "normal," and to pass that information on.
"There was a need in the community for resources that allowed you to communicate with your children about family health history," she said.
The need Pulaski speaks of is especially amplified this time of year; September was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this week is Hereditary Cancer Awareness Week.
With all that in mind, Pulaski's book "Mom's Genes" and her new blog, called Proactive Genes, have already proven to be important tools in getting children to understand the reasons for a parent's illness, and how that may even affect them as they grow up.
Proactive Genes features stories from patients, parents, and genetic counselors, and Pulaski said both projects have prompted positive — yet in some ways surprising — responses from parents.
"I think when the parents are engaging with the children in these kinds of conversations, they might step back and think, 'Well, what's my family health history, and maybe I should be asking these questions too,'" she said.