Parents

How this cancer-fighting mom became a superhero (in her children's book)

Three months after Jessica Reid Sliwerski gave birth to her daughter, Penelope, she found a lump in her left breast.

What was supposed to be a happy time in the new mom’s life was suddenly full of fear and uncertainty: She had just celebrated her 33rd birthday — and had pregnancy-associated breast cancer.

Cancer Hates Kisses
Jessica and her daughter Penelope pose with a copy of "Cancer Hates Kisses."

In talking with other moms with cancer, Sliwerski, 35, heard a common concern: How do we talk to our kids about this?

She was especially inspired by one woman in particular, whose daughter started to cry when her hair fell out.

“I asked this woman if she’d explained to her 8-year-old daughter that her baldness was actually a sign of her strength,” Sliwerski told TODAY Parents. “Had she invited her daughter to caress her head and marvel at its smoothness? The answer was an unequivocal no."

So Sliwerski channeled her positivity into a children’s book. “Cancer Hates Kisses” stars a “cancer-fighting superhero who helps kids see their parent’s journey as something to be celebrated, not feared.

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Dial Books
A page from "Cancer Hates Kisses" explains radiation treatment.

"I decided that the reason I got breast cancer, despite no family history, despite not carrying the gene, despite being young and healthy, was because I needed to write this book,” she said.

Her friends and family, including husband Kyle, rallied around her during treatment and recovery. For them, she said, she's paying that support forward.

Dial Books
A colorful page from "Cancer Hates Kisses."

"They cooked, paid for a cleaning service, helped with our infant daughter, came with me to appointments and surgeries, kept me company so I wasn’t lonely, helped bathe me, shaved my head, and listened to me cuss, yell, and cry," she said. "Another reason I was so motivated to write this book is because I feel immense gratitude to those who gave me support and that support made me stronger. In my own small way, I wanted to give support to the millions of women affected by cancer.”

Pregnancy-associated breast cancer, which gets diagnosed during or shortly after pregnancy, affects 1 in 3000 women. The average age of women with PABC is 32 to 38 years, Sliwerski said.

Now, Sliwerski is post-treatment and enjoying promoting her book. She's thankful that she’s around to see her daughter Penelope, now 2, reaching all her milestones.

“I wrote the story that was in my heart,” she said. “It was the story I’d been telling myself to get through treatment. I would hold my baby and in my head I would think, ‘Mama is a cancer-fighting superhero.’ That became the first line of the story. I want every woman battling cancer to know she is a cancer-fighting superhero because it requires superhuman strength to be a mom and fight cancer.”

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