After a routine mammogram in the fall of 2011, Laurie Thornberg learned she had breast cancer. Over the next nine months, as the Oakland woman endured surgery and rounds of chemotherapy, she watched as friends and loved ones attempted to explain her condition to their children.
Some struggled. One person described Thornberg’s cancer to her children “like I had the plague,” she said. Others were more comfortable, including a close friend and neighbor Thornberg ran into while out for a walk.
“[She] told her children in a kind and gentle way,” Thornberg, a registered nurse, wrote in an email.
Thornberg chronicled the encounter with her neighbor in her new children’s book, “Julie’s Dream,” which she hopes families will use as a tool to talk with their children about cancer and its treatment, as well provide hope to cancer victims and their loved ones.
“Children, even young ones, can be very aware of their surroundings and have questions when they notice family members being upset, someone who is sick a lot, or even as simple as a person suddenly has no hair,” Thornberg said.
In the book, Thornberg’s neighbor explains to her children, “See our friend? She wears that bonnet to cover her head because she got sick and had to take a special medicine that made her hair fall out.”
One of the children turns to Thornberg, asking, “Why don’t you take off that bonnet? I’m sure you’re beautiful under there.”
The book goes on to detail the main character’s dream about magically being healed. Thornberg’s friend and the book’s illustrator, Juliana Muzeroll, had that very dream about her, Thornberg said.
“I liked this approach a lot because it gives the reader freedom to interpret the outcome to fit their own personal situation,” she said. “Meaning, that whether the loved one survives or passes away, there is always healing at the end of a cancer journey.”
Thornberg remains in remission 18 months after her last round of chemotherapy. She now realizes that the disease freed her from stressing over the demands of a life as a full-time hospital nurse, mother, and daughter caring for her disabled mother, said Thornberg, who now works in home health care and said she’s able to focus on what’s really important in life.
“Getting cancer took me away from my excessive stress,” she said. “I often say ‘cancer healed my life.’”