Ever since I started blogging my cancer journey, I’ve been getting emails from extraordinary women who have either been in my position or have been put in my position. The latter breaks my heart, as I don’t wish this on anybody. The other day I received one from a woman who has two kids around the same age as mine (6 & 5), and she asked me how they have dealt with everything.
This is something I’m asked pretty often and rarely know how to answer, so when I responded to her email and it wasn’t a sequence of “I don’t know” and “I really… don’t know”, I figured I would save and share it on here.
My kids were four and three when I was diagnosed. If you have or have had a three-year-old, imagine telling them you’re going to lose your hair. It isn’t something you *think* they can comprehend, yet they do, and when you finally do start losing it, they feel it. For more on that, check out my previous posts. My kids have obviously been through a lot, seeing me go through all those surgeries, losing my hair, bedridden from chemo, etc. I tried, so hard, to keep things as normal as possible and I was always honest with them (without being *too* honest). A lot of, “How are you feeling?” were answered with a cheerful, “Good!” when in reality, I felt like I was dying. But you can’t really explain to a three and five-year-old what dying feels like.
A few days ago, I took my now six (soon to be seven) year old to a dentist appointment, and she expressed concern with his cheek and mentioned possible nerve damage (he’d fallen and hit it the week before), so I took him to the pediatrician as soon as I left there. On our way to his doctor, he asked me what they would do to him, and when I responded that I didn’t know, he asked if he’d need a CT scan. This is how our conversation went:
“Will I need a CT scan?”
Me: “No. Why would you think that?”
Him: ::shrugs:: “I don’t know. Will I need a bone scan?”
Him: “What about an EKG?”
And that’s basically the point where my heart began to break, because that was when the reality of what our lives had become dawned on me. He didn’t sound worried when he asked. He asked as if they were the most normal questions in the world, and once my heart made its way out of my throat, I was able to remind him that the reason I get those things done is because I was sick and the doctors want to make sure I stay healthy.
During the conversation, I had this moment of guilt (you know, that “mom” moment). I felt like maybe I’d said too much in their presence. Maybe I should’ve been more careful. Maybe I shouldn’t have been as honest as I had been, but then I realized that this is our life. This is our normal, and knowing these terms and what these scans do is something that I felt I needed to share in order to make them see that medicine is not the bad guy. By explaining these things to them, I’m helping them realize that doctors are real life heroes and nurses are saviors. I don’t want them to ever see what I went through in a bad light, and yes, I know, cancer is fucking horrible. I know, but cancer happens to a lot of people, and I just happen to be one of many. Being afraid of it (and many other diseases) doesn’t help us combat them or come up with solutions to try to cure them. Being afraid makes us cower and not get ourselves checked because we’re afraid of results. Being afraid kills.
People say cancer patients are brave, and maybe we are, I don’t know. I think we just do what we have to do. Our families? They’re brave. Being able to look at us and love us and comfort us despite what we look like, how weak we are, and how little we offer in return… well, it takes brave people to do that.
I guess to answer the original question of how my kids deal with it and how I address it with them, I tell them the truth and answer their questions. I think they’ve handled it pretty well. It hasn’t been a walk in the park for any of us, but they’ve become more curious and curiosity leads to discovery, and discovery leads to brilliant minds 🙂
If you’re going through this, keep your head up, stay strong, and know that you are never alone.