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Cancer-survivor mom’s mission to help parents with cancer

Now that she no longer feels like the Sword of Damocles is hanging by a slender thread over her head, mother-of-two Jen Singer can at last get her dream off the drawing board.

That dream is Parenting With Cancer — the website she wishes had existed when she was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on June 6, 2007.

Singer would wander around at night in tears fueled by medication, trying not to disturb the family, and “go online looking for somebody, anybody, who had any idea how you’re supposed to parent when you have cancer.” Finding scant advice, Singer, she was left to plot her own course to get her family through cancer’s rough ride. And that experience, she said, led her to launch the site at

Singer, already author of five books and the website, launched Parenting With Cancer earliet this month in her hairstylist’s parking lot — as soon as her Web designer sent word that it was a go.

“I thought, ‘How poetic being in the hairstylist’s parking lot after being bald from cancer,’ and I launched it right there,” on her laptop.

Friends already called her the Cancer Sherpa, she said, because like a Sherpa guiding folks to the top of Mount Everest, she had helped other patients, parents and families face cancer and what it does to a family. But she envisions that the website will go even further as a clearinghouse of resources for parents with cancer and in reaching cancer patients worldwide through the Internet.

The biggest impetus for the timing of this site, she said, was the milestone of completing her last routine positron emission tomography — PET scan for short. She had been injected with radiation 14 times so the scan could detect any diseased areas.

Aggressive form

Although in remission since at least January 2008, she had to endure the many scans because of the very aggressive form of cancer that invaded her otherwise healthy body at age 40.

“It grows very fast and so it would come back very fast,” Singer said.

The last scan result, she said, “made me feel like I finally moved to the next stage of survivorship, and I was ready to move to help parents who had just been diagnosed.

“When you get cancer, it’s like the whole family gets cancer,” she said.

She’s heard of parents trying to hide the diagnosis from their kids, but warns against it. It’s important to tell them the truth of what’s going on but through a filter — so that it’s age-appropriate, she said.

For her boys, then ages 10 and 8, she recalls, “I told them I have a curable cancer; the doctor hopes chemotherapy and later radiation will get rid of the cancer.” The two things kids want to know, she said, are that there’s nothing they said or thought that caused the cancer and that it’s not contagious. Singer said her boys also wanted to know how she got cancer — in her case, still a mystery.

As for the filter, she said, parents should avoid talking to their kids about the odds of survival.

Besides parenting information, the website shares information on how spouses, friends, family and even the community can be supportive of patients with cancer. In Singer’s case, neighbors would take her kids to swim practice or keep them entertained during the summer. But she’s heard of others going the distance alone without a support network — and even worse, no one talks to them because they don’t know what to say.

Singer looks back on her time as a parent, with cancer tossing her boys’ lives around.

“I worried I was ruining their childhood by having cancer, but I find it made them the fine young men that they are,” she said.

-Donna Rolando, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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