By Deb Peterson
Louis Stanoch was six when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. His little brother, Maxwell, was only three. They didn’t understand what was happening to their mom, especially when she lost her hair and no longer had the energy to sing to them.
Katy Tessman Stanoch tried to find a book she could read to Louis and Maxwell that would explain breast cancer in their terms, and when she couldn’t, she wrote her own.
In Our Mama Is a Beautiful Garden, illustrated by Jessica Bailey, Louis and Maxwell tell their mother’s story in their own words, from their experience.
“Mama explained to us that cancer is like a really bad weed in her garden. It had to be taken out of her body right away,” writes Louis.
“This weed made me very mad and sad,” adds Maxwell.
Katy’s garden analogy helped her boys understand each step in her cancer treatment, including her mastectomy, chemotherapy, and reconstruction. She didn’t need radiation, but she explained that, too. About chemotherapy, Louis writes, “This medicine kills the cancer cells that Mama calls weed seeds. These weed seeds are like burrs in a garden that can float around and stick to things. Mama explained to us that the medicine made sure the cancer weed seeds would never take root in her body again.”
In simple, touching language, and with darling art, we experience Katy’s cancer through the eyes and hearts of her two boys—how they dealt with their fear and frustration, being cared for by “Gramma and Grampa,” how hard it was for Louis to go to school, watching Mama receive cards and casseroles, and their happiness at her recovery.
“When Mama was all done with the chemo treatments and reconstruction surgeries, her energy and hair started coming back,” Louis writes. “She told us her body—her garden—was healthy again.”
Maxwell says, “It was fun to tug on her hair and it didn’t come out. We planted new flowers in our yard. Our Mama is a beautiful garden.”
In Katy’s author’s note at the beginning of the book, she includes statistics from the Susan G. Komen Foundation website: cancer affects one in eight women, and of those women, one-third are between the ages of 20 and 49. Many of these women have young children in their lives.
“I wanted a book that instilled hope and explained the basics of cancer,” Katy writes. “I’m confident that having my sons tell our family story will give other families the strength, courage, and optimism they need during an awful time that can feel quite hopeless.”
Our Mama Is a Beautiful Garden is available at rhythmelodic.com/mamasgarden for $10 plus shipping and handling. Katy Tessman Stanoch and her husband, David, are musicians and educators. In 2011, Katy was a model for “of scars,” a photographic exploration of breast cancer survival. Find more info at ofscars.com. She shared a photo of herself and David, both bald, in the October/November 2011 issue of Marvelous! The family lives in Minneapolis.
M! October/November 2013