When Jim and I told our kids that my cancer was growing again and I would have to do more chemotherapy, they took it quite well. Zoey, age 8, a chip off the ole’ block, said “and then you’ll get better?” Then she proceeded to highlight the things she thinks are positives: maybe we can go on vacation, will people bring us food, she’ll be the only girl with hair in the house! Emmet, age 5, laughed and said, “I can’t believe you’re gonna lose your hair again!” We must be doing something right, because life goes on and these kids are looking on the bright side.
They do, however, feel strongly and we see their worry, anger and sadness ooze out like play-do in their sweaty fists, but overall I think we are doing a fine job (along with the help of an amazing Child Life Specialist) helping them cope with the unknown and scary world of cancer.
The day after we broke the news, Zoey, while getting ready for school, informed me that I should tell her teacher (check) and the guidance counselor (check). During school, she confided in her closest friends. After school, she said she would like an appointment with Ali, the Child Life Specialist. Don’t mind if I pat myself on the back for a moment.
But wait. There’s more.
Zoey returned home after a day of rain and inside recess with this:
Your kids are looking on the bright side too.
I get presents from my kids’ friends that they draw with 3D pens. They tell me they love my new hair and that it’s really cool. They tell me I look beautiful. They draw all of us pictures. They put on impromptu dance shows. They pick out special snacks they think we’d love. They ask for Maggie’s Brightside stickers so that they can sport them on their snowboarding helmets.
When I feel hopeless and defeated all I want to do is hang out with my kids. I thought it was simply because I love them, but maybe it’s also because they bring me hope. If I look at all the hateful, icky things that are happening in the world, I feel sad, broken, and worried and I get all doomsday and cynical, but if I look to our children, I can see that we are building the future and that the future is kind, loving, and compassionate.
Zoey just came up to my bedroom where I’m resting and asked if I needed anything. Now she’s getting me tea, a lemon for water and a banana smoothie. She is learning how to take care of people when they need it. We are getting through this, and finding the positives amongst all this garbage, you guys! Something right is going on when our kids are showing unsolicited kindness and compassion. When they help eachother out and raise money for sea turtles and recognize the inner beauty in one another.
My nephew, whom Emmet idolizes, sent him a letter that said he hoped his letter cheered him up (it did) and ended with “and remember, love cures all diseases.” Oh, how I hope this is true! It certainly addresses symptoms of disease. When I receive these nuggets of love, I definitely feel better and I think the kids feel better too.
Terminal illness is such a difficult concept for children to understand.
Kids know that cancer and death can go together and so it’s always a scary topic for adults and children alike. The parents of the children in my life are doing something right because their kids see me, understand my situation, and love me and my family so unwaveringly. It makes my heart swell!
If you don’t know what to say to your kids about people in your life who have cancer, there are tons of resources online. Mahana Magic is a terrific local organization that provides support to kids who have a parent or adult caregiver with cancer.
As kids brains grow, they process their experiences differently, so the conversations my husband and I are having with Emmet and Zoey this time around are different than they were a year and a half ago. Emmet is asking if I’m going to die. Zoey feels compelled to be the caretaker. I feel guilty and helpless that they have to cope with this! I have no idea if I’m setting the right tone and providing the right level of information, but I must be getting something right, because when it comes down to it, my kids, and the kids in my community are my heart and my hope. They are the source of my bright side.