Imani said the news was "a shock."
"I thought she might die," she said. "But I kept my faith and I prayed that God would keep my mom here."
Imani and her younger brother Ronald got help coping with the news from the DeKalb Medical's Tree House Gang, a support group for children whose family members are battling cancer.
The 13-year-old group started by the hospital's Charles B. Eberhart Cancer Center on North Decatur Road serves children, five to 18 years, who are dealing with news of cancer, even if their family members are getting treatment elsewhere.
Rose McKeever, the child therapist and oncology nurse who leads the Tree House Gang, said that hundreds of children have benefited from the program which currently has about 100 active members.
McKeever said that caregivers and practitioners at the center realized there was a need to care for the children of cancer patients.
"We have a very large cancer center here at DeKalb Medical, and we saw that the parents were diagnosed and had a support group to attend, the families of patients had a support group to attend, but the kids didn't," she said.
McKeever, who also works on the center's cancer team, said that families were so involved in taking care of their diagnosis or taking care of those who were diagnosed that they couldn't support the kids.
"A cancer diagnosis is a family affair, so with that in mind we set out to get a support group that would be helpful to the children," she said.
The Tree House Gang schedules its meetings to accommodate the busy lives of families undergoing cancer treatment. It meets as a group every three months for three, 90-minute weekly sessions. Children may also get individual, professional counseling through the Cancer Center if they or their parents feel they need support in between sessions.
The group's size ranges from just a handful of kids to as many as 15.
Betty Castellani, the cancer center's director, thinks the support group is a great way for children to trade in fear and uncertainty for knowledge and understanding.
"Cancer can be a scary experience for anybody, including children," she said. "We believe that information is the best way for people to overcome fear."
Members of the group tour the hospital's Cancer Center to help dispel some of their fear. They visit the laboratory and look into microscopes to learn about platelets and white blood cells and how they change with cancer treatment.
They also learn, in plain language, about diagnostic tests such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT) scans, as well as chemotherapy, radiation treatment and stem cell transplants.
McKeever said the tour is very helpful in educating the children about treatments.
"By visiting these areas of the hospital, the children may have a better understanding of what their parents and grandparents are talking about," said McKeever.
Imani said she learned about the stages of cancer, how the disease affect the body, and treatments for cancer like chemotherapy and radiation. She said the information helped to lessen her fears about what her mother was going through."It helped me understand a lot, especially the toll it was going to take on her body," said Imani, a rising 10th grader at Parkview High School in Lilburn. "It helped me to not be afraid of the whole process."
Imani said her understanding helped her explain things to her little brother. "I had to kind of break things down to him because he was younger," she said.
Their mother, who had a mastectomy and chemotherapy, has been cancer-free since treatment and even though they are no longer members of the Tree House Gang, the Irby kids and other "graduates" return to join new members and paint their feelings about cancer. Their art works are printed on holiday greeting cards that are sold annually to support the group.
Imani said the reunions are fun.
"I get to help the other kids and explain what they can do to help their parents out," she said.
McKeever said the support group's alums continue to participate in Tree House Gang activities."Some kids stay with us until they graduate high school," she said, adding that some have kept in touch even after they've gone on to college.
For more information about the Tree House Gang, call 404-501-EASY.