Love in the Time of Breast Cancer: Talking Treatment with Kids

Portland moms help explain breast cancer—and express love—to little loved ones.

By Mary Stutzman April 30, 2015

When Chelsea Harper didn’t know how to tell her daughter she had breast cancer, she went looking for a book. The 35 year-old-mom knew from her experience as a counselor that books often help children work through life changes but most books she found were for school-aged children, not toddlers.

She didn’t write that off—instead she wrote it down.

“Immediately I knew I needed a book for her, to help me. People say it’s for the kids, but ultimately it’s really for the mamas,” Harper says, “Moms say ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to talk about this? What will I tell them? What will I not tell them?’ There is so much fear and worry and families get stuck.”

Harper compiled a little book to let her daughter read, write, and draw emotions as her mama went through treatments. Later on, at a survivor’s conference, she met Brook Irwin, another mom who had done the same thing.

In 2013, the friends co-authored a book to help moms explain the science of breast cancer (and the sentiment of unconditional love) to their kids. A kickstarter campaign and $19,000 later, a thousand copies of “I Love You Forever and Always” came off the press and into the hands of families in need.

Illustrated by artist (and Harper’s cousin) Penny Hood, brightly colored paintings show all kinds of moms hooked up to IVs, happy kids trying on hats, and lots of hugs. Not only is the book beautiful—it’s interactive. Stickers and spaces for drawing let kids express their feelings, while removable pages allow moms to customize the story to fit their diagnosis.

In 2014, both Harper and Irwin’s cancer returned. Shortly before it was printed, Brook passed away—but not before approving the final draft and encouraging Harper to finish their work.

“Brook died last summer, but I felt pretty clear about continuing what we had set out to do,” says Harper, “and the time I spent with her makes this very meaningful.” 

Harper has already donated more than 800 of the books, all the way from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine—and even Ireland. She says plans for a Spanish translation and a second printing are underway.

Find a copy for families in need or donate at

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