But there were also bright spots, like the fund-raiser family and friends organized at a local bowling alley. The Drouins used some of the money for medical expenses, but set part aside for a trip to Disney World when the twins were 2 1/2. Disney World was a wonderful respite for Dana, as was a vacation at the Jersey shore that summer. "For a whole week I didn't even think about being sick," she says. Photographs show the kids, ecstatic in the sand and sun, and Dana with a huge grin, a scarf tied over her bald head.
The twins don't remember a time when their mom wasn't sick. But neither do they fully comprehend the seriousness of her condition. "They don't know I'm dying," Dana says. "But now that they're 5, I talk about my sickness. I tell them that if something happens to me, I'll be going to a better place and will always watch over them. Sometimes their obliviousness is almost funny, like the time UPS delivered a box of meds and the twins began dancing around, shouting 'Mommy's chemo is here!' as if it were my birthday or something." She treasures their innocence. "I don't let them see me cry, and I try my best to hide it when I'm sick or in pain," she says.
But the Drouins thought that Ryan, who was almost 9 when Dana was diagnosed, deserved a fuller explanation. "I told him right away I had cancer, that it was a serious disease, but that I'd fight as long as I could to be with him. I also told him that the medicine would make me very sick and that the cancer might someday kill me."
Originally, Ryan, who's quiet by nature, didn't show much emotion. "Maybe he was too little to comprehend the situation, or else he was in denial," Dana says. "But when I lost my hair he came completely undone." He begged her to wear a wig whenever she came to his school -- "it made my disease more real for him," Dana guesses, "and he didn't want his friends to know. Ryan keeps his real feelings to himself, but we're very close, and I knew he was suffering." She decided to meet his attitude head on, telling him firmly, "Hair doesn't change who someone is. It's just a cosmetic thing, and no matter how funny I look, I'm still your mother." And then, to honor his request, Dana always wore a scarf tied around her head when she went to his school.
But when Ryan was in fifth grade, Dana and Shawn sensed he was withdrawing even from them. Worried that coping with his mom's illness was starting to take a serious toll, Dana called his school counselor, who put her in touch with an organization called Mommy's Light.