In this episode, guest host Suzanne Stone of the More Than Pink podcast chats with Kyla Thompson, founder of #pinkkids about losing her mom to breast cancer.
“It’s not just about changing the future, but changing the present, and creating an online space where the children of moms with breast cancer can connect and not feel alone.”
When her mother lost her battle to breast cancer, Kyla wanted to make sure other kids like her had a place to go for support – a social media space just for kids who are going through the same thing – and #pinkkids was born! Guest host Suzanne Stone, Executive Director of Komen Greater CETX.
A proven leader in building long term community partnership opportunities, Suzanne Stone brings innovative ideas to support Komen Greater CETX’s mission in fighting breast cancer. Stone has gained experience in outreach and education, volunteer programs, donor development and fundraising over her professional career. Stone earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Radio, Television and Film from Texas Christian university and is certified in non-profit management. During her free time, she enjoys going to the beach to catch waves on her surfboard, paddle boarding and watching baseball games.
Speaker 1: 00:01 Special thanks to Dragon Army for sponsoring this podcast.
Adam : 00:08 From Susan G Komen. This is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Adam: 00:19 Hey, Real Pink listeners today. I’m excited to have a special more than pink episode for you. Guest hosts, Suzanne Stone, the executive director of Komen Greater Central and East Texas interviews Kyla Thompson, creator of Hashtag Pink Kids an online space where the children of moms with breast cancer can connect and not feel alone. This is a great interview and here’s Suzanne.
Suzanne: 00:43 Growing up today can be hard enough. I remember telling my son when he was in middle school that no adult has ever said, “Gosh, I really wish I could re-live my middle school days.” For most, the battles are focused on fitting in and finding your way, but for some they’re faced with growing up without a mom. Kyla Thompson watched her mom lose her battle with breast cancer. And now at the tender age of 16, she’s determined to give a voice and lend a listening ear to other kids who are facing the same hard reality.
Suzanne: 01:22 At 16, your childhood has been a bit different than others.
Kyla: 01:27 Yes it has, very different.
Suzanne: 01:30 How so?
Kyla: 01:31 On October 21st, 2014 I found out and heard the words from my father that, my mother was not here anymore. She had passed away from breast cancer. I had figured that out at lunch that day of school. My life had changed when I was younger. She heard the words “I have breast cancer” at an ultrasound for my little sister during her pregnancy in 2004, my life changed then and it changed even greater the day she passed away. But during those 11 years of on and off battle with breast cancer, my life was way different than a lot of kids. I was living with a mom that was not just worried about things that other moms had to worry about. She had to worry about going to the oncologist. Had to worry about going to doctor’s appointments, getting CAT scans, and worrying about if she would ever have to hear the words I have breast cancer again, which she unfortunately did.
02:45 And when she relapsed later after a six year remission, my life didn’t change. It was not good. It wasn’t bad. It was just different than a lot of kids that could live their lives and go through life with not worrying if the next day their mom was not going to be there. And I didn’t, feel that as most of my life went off. I tried to not worry about that ever because you only get one mom and you have to spend as much time as possible with her because you never know what’s going to happen the next day if she’s going to be there or not. And so I decided instead of worrying about her cancer, to worry about if I was gonna have a great day with her and have a childhood that everyone else was going to have and, it didn’t matter. Our life did not revolve around breast cancer. Yes, it was present, but it didn’t revolve around that. And yes, I had a different life than so many other kids do now, but those kids have stuff going on in their lives that is their situation with their family. And I did not want to feel who I am from my mom’s breast cancer. But today definitely has changed me.
Suzanne: 04:11 Let’s talk a little bit about your mom. So once she finds out that she has breast cancer, like you said, things change, it’s no longer maybe worrying about making cupcakes for the class or you know, attending your volleyball games.
Kyla: 04:30 Yeah. So she went to the doctor that day, October 20th and figured out that her sodium was down. So Dr Camp, her oncologist told her to go to Seton and just get her a sodium up and she’ll be home the next day, next few days, and it’ll be all good and go from there. But I had a volleyball game that night and she made it a priority to watch me on the face time. And that was the last thing that she got to see of me, which I think is a very powerful thing that even though mom’s aren’t able to do a lot of stuff when they have a disease in them, they make it a priority to see what’s important in their children’s lives. And that’s what she did when she saw my volleyball game. And she did that throughout her life. It’s her cancer was eating her alive inside, but she made it a priority to have us kids be her attention all the time. And she was an architect. She went to the University of Texas and got her Master’s in architecture and loved it. And she worked at her architecture firm till the week before she passed away. And that was her life. It was architecture and us. And she made it a priority every single day to wake us up. And she’s saying, you are my sunshine to us every, every morning at five fifty in the morning.
Suzanne: 06:13 I bet there were moments you were not wanting to hear that at five fifty in the morning.
Kyla: 06:19 I was like, “No, mom, get away. I don’t want to wake up right now.”
06:23 But today I realize that it was her just waking us up, singing and turning on the lights and everything that she encompassed that song. And till this day, anytime that song comes on, it makes me cry because we think that she probably passed away at around five fifty and that’s mommy time. Her waking us up at five fifty with that song and making us breakfast and making us brush our teeth and get dressed and get to school on time. And then her being able to make it to the office and work until five o’clock and then come pick us up, drive us home, and then make dinner and then repeat the next day. It was her kids and architecture that I think made her hold on for so long. Being able to know that we were gonna be okay was the day that she realized that I don’t need to hold on anymore because it’s so hard.
07:34 And I think that’s when she knew that us kids would be able to be where we are today. Being able to hold our own and have ideas and work, be ourselves and know that what she created and made us mature and worked hard every single day for us is here through us kids and that she’s always going to be with us. Even if she’s not here today. She’s always going to be around helping us in whatever little way she does and I truly believe that she’s here with us now.
Suzanne: 08:13 She sounds like an incredible woman.
Kyla: 08:15 Yes, indeed.
Suzanne: 08:18 Tell me about how, obviously this affects you and your siblings. What kind of conversations did you have with one another when you were going through this together while she was still with you, and then today, how does that, how does that interaction happen? How does that support look like?
Kyla: 08:36 Well, we were really young when, my siblings and I, she was going through what she was going through and we were young. We didn’t worry about that type of stuff. We worried about who our friends were and when our play dates are going to be and what movies we were gonna watch that night. We’re kids, you’re not supposed to worry about these types of things. My older brother Taylor was 15, I was 13 and my little sister was 11 when my mom passed away and we all coped with it very, very differently. My brother says that he got quiet and just was trying to figure out what will my life look like without my mom anymore and it’s hard. It’s hard for me to remember those days and months and weeks after my mom passed away because you’re grieving and everyone else has different ways to grieve and there’s no one way or perfect way that someone has to grieve.
09:47 It’s all what, what are you going through in that moment and how do you want to, you can do it however you want to. So my brother got quiet as he says. I just didn’t know what was going on. Like, why did this happen have to happen to my mom? Why will I not get to have any other birthdays with her, any other holidays? Like, why would this happen to me? And my sister, very young, did not know what was really going on. She just knew like, my mom’s not here anymore.
So, it was really hard for a lot of us, for all of us as a family, after that happened. But the one thing we knew was that my mom would want us to go forward and not look back. So that’s what we did. We went forward as a family of five still, she’s always here, so it’s not a family four anymore. It’s always a family of five, even though she’s not at the dinner table with us in person. She’s at the dinner table with us in spirit and life went on and I think we were all very numb at the beginning of our grieving process. And that night she passed away, we got home and I remember it very distinctly. We got all of the cancer in our house, all of her arms stuff and anything cancer related and just cut it up, threw it in the trash, cut it up and threw it in the trashcan and took it out of the house. And we were like, cancer is not going to defeat us. And ever since that day we, we aren’t going to let cancer defeat us because that means that cancer wins and cancer should never win and take a family.
Suzanne: 11:45 So to that end and not letting cancer win, I know that you, you have ideas in mind about how to fight cancer in your own way, through your own experience, channeling other kids and reaching out to them. Tell us about what your thought process is and how you want to tackle cancer.
Kyla: 12:13 So I was thinking after I heard the words my mom had passed away. I’m very compassionate about other people and how they’re feeling at all times and want everyone to be happy all the time, even though I know that’s not the case, but I want that to be 90% of people’s life is to be happy. And I worry about people’s emotions a lot. And I always worry about my older brother and sister, even if they don’t like it all the time, but I love them and they might get annoyed at me sometimes, but I just worry about them. And so I worry about everyone. So my thought process was I don’t want kids to be alone through whatever they’re going through. They should never be alone because that’s unfair to them because there are so many kids out there going through the same exact thing or even different but being able to talk to someone who has been going through the same things as them.
My thought process is since breast cancer was a big part of my life, and Komen has been a big part of my life with the race or the cure. I wanted to help out and I was thinking when someone hears the words, a mother hears the words or a father “You have breast cancer” that one in eight women that figure that out, It’s not just them who are affected by it, but it’s the kids, the family and the group as a whole. And when the mother’s going to doctor’s appointments and all of that, the kids are affected by seeing their mother and not being able to do anything to help them. And the only thing they I can do is give her a hug or him a hug.
14:05 So I want those kids that don’t feel like they have a voice to know that other kids that don’t feel like they have a voice, be able to talk with each other. And I want to call this The Pink Kids and Pink Kids ATX starting cause in Austin since I’m from there. And then just growing and growing in each city and a support system that no parents involved. No one listening, no therapists, no one that doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a kid that’s going through and seeing what’s happening to their mother or their father and knowing that they can talk to someone and that the other person will be listening and being able to be empathetic to what they’re going through. And so with this I wanted the goal of this Pink Kids is to change our future as mothers, in the fight with cancer by acting together now as kids as a whole.
15:10 However, I would like Pink Kids it’s not just about changing the future, but changing the present and then creating an online space where the children of moms with breast cancer can connect and not feel alone. And I feel like that just as a whole, is the mission of what I want to do it through Komen and through not just through Komen but the kids cause at the walks you see thousands and thousands and thousands of people there and more than half of that is kids. And those kids, you don’t know what’s going on with them and they don’t feel like they have a voice a lot of times at any age. And I feel like if those kids, are able to know that there’s a group that they can join and know that, their voices are being heard by other kids just one person. If one person can hear the words of another person, they will be like, “Wow, I, I feel better.” And I know it’s not going to be the solution of everything, but I hope that it changes that person’s life in that moment. And maybe it makes their day better. But I feel like if it just changes one person, that’s all I need. Because if one life is changed, that means that one person’s life changed, that I changed someone’s life and another person in that group has changed another person’s life. And in the end, I hope that anyone around the country could be able to come into this group and hear all these other people’s voices and know that everything is going to be okay.
Suzanne: 17:04 So you’re looking to build a safe space, a place where it’s just kids talking to other kids about something that no kid should ever really have to talk about?
Kyla: 17:19 Yes, no kid.. every kid is supposed to have the life of any kid like go to school, have friends, play sports, have an awesome life. And that’s when cancer just rips it away. And cancer shouldn’t do that because kids are stronger than that. And I feel like in this unit we will be able to become stronger by listening to other people’s story and know that in the end of the day, cancer doesn’t win and that kids are stronger and moms are stronger than cancer. And maybe yes, in many, many cases it takes a mom, but knowing that what they left it will keep their legacy going and not their legacy about going through cancer and all of that, but their legacy as a mom and as a great person that they are still. And that’s what I hope to do with this Pink Kids.
Suzanne: 18:25 So I know listening to this podcast today are going to be parents who have those kids who are concerned about how their kids are coping and they’ve probably taken them to therapists, you know, probably done that. I’m sure you’ve done that.
Kyla: 18:43 Yes (not clear 18:44)
Suzanne: 18:45 Yeah and all of those places are great. And so what you’re proposing is something just a little bit different, very kid centric. How would they find you? What do you think the best way is for them to join together? What does that Hashtag?
Kyla: 19:01 I would call it Hashtag Pink Kids and I definitely would want it to be a very social media based thing. I would create an Instagram for it. You could find me at, we’ll call it Pink Kids and from there I would create a web page describing what my mission is, what I wanna do with this, where you can go to be a part of this group. And I hope in the end we’ll be able to either on Facebook live or other chat-based things, find a place where kids can talk in a safe place where it’s just kids for 30 minutes or an hour or however long they want to be there and tell their story. And if they don’t feel comfortable with it, just know that there’s so many other kids that probably aren’t comfortable with it either, but know that it’s a safe space that they should, they could feel comfortable with this and being able to be vulnerable and tell their story, that maybe if they tell their story that that changed the day or course of another person’s life through this safe space.
Suzanne: 20:22 So we’re going to put links at the bottom of the, at the bottom of our page of the podcast page. So if you’re listening, go back to that content page and you’ll see the links to Kyla’s site and #Pink Kids so that you can connect. If you’ve got a child or a kid or somebody in your life that you think would benefit from this. Before we go, how do you see yourself being a mom in the future?
Kyla: 20:54 Wow. I have never had someone.. Wow. I’ve never had someone ask me that question before. I see myself being the best, being the best I’m able to be to my kids and using all the tools that I’ve learned from my mom being her, her and my dad, and all the role models I have in my life and trying to be the best mom I can when I wake up to the best mom I can when I go to sleep and know that it’s not going to be perfect because nothing is ever perfect and just doing the best that I possibly can for my kids and everyone in my life around me.
Suzanne: 21:49 I think your kids have a future of you are my sunshine song’s coming.
Kyla: 21:53 Oh, for sure. My voice is not as good as my moms, but we’ll try. We’ll be doing it.
Suzanne: 22:00 As a mom. We try to get it right every day and leave our kids with valuable lessons that they’ll carry with them as they grow up, but our intention is for us to watch them grow up, see them thrive. Breast cancer has taken too many moms and robbed too many children have the chance to hear you are my sunshine. One more time.
Adam : 22:34 Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink.komen.org and for more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out @SusanGKomen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter @ajwalker or on my blog, adamjwalker.com.
Speaker: 22:53 Special thanks to Dragon Army for sponsoring this podcast because inspiring happiness is at the center of everything Dragon Army does, this full service digital agency is dedicated to building remarkable products and experiences for its partners. Dragon Army’s team of experts create powerful experiences that deepen emotional connections and amplify impact in the core areas of web, mobile ,content and branding. Whether you’re a fortune 500 or a small to medium sized company, Dragon Army is able to support your business needs. To learn more about this purpose driven digital agency, head to dragonarmy.com/komen that’s d r a g o n a r m y.com/komen.
Thank you to Dragon Army for sponsoring this podcast.