On this day at work I sat on the school bus seat across from 11 year-old Ian and his 10 year-old brother Brian. The minute I pulled out my knitting- SWOOSH! Ian was next to me. He was fascinated and eagerly asked questions. Are you knitting? Yeah, do you wanna try? Happy response. I put my arms around him and held his hands around the needles and guided him through a couple of stitches.
Me: “So what’s your favorite subject?”
Ian: “Science, but my concentration is Visual Arts and Music. I play the violin.”
Me: “I LOVE science and know a lot about it, and I’ve wanted to play the Violin forever!”
I don’t know where (or why) in the conversation Ian tells me, “My Dad had Testicular Cancer”. Somewhere before or after he told me that there are 208 bones in the body.
Ian: “Yep, and he only has one testicle, like Lance Armstrong. Who you know, by the way, is actually a good guy?”
Me:”Absolutely he is.”
Now little brother Brian slides over to say that his friend told him about a bone that we don’t need.
Me.: “Hmmm, I know we don’t really need the appendix, but I don’t know of a bone we don’t need.”
Ian: “Can you die from cancer?”
Me: “Yes, but Testicular Cancer is one of the best kind to have, ESPECIALLY if they catch it early like Lance Armstrong.”
Ian: bright eyed, “Oh yeah, they caught it really early! He walked at this thing to raise money and there was a big sign that said TWO YEARS CANCER FREE.”
Me: Wiping the sweat from my brow I say,” That is awesome! Your Dad is great. He’s a survivor!”
Brian: “What’s a survivor?”
Me: “Someone like your Dad, who doesn’t die from cancer.”
Ian: “Lots of people die from cancer.”
Me: “Yes, they do, but lots of people don’t. It’s hard for the body to fight cancer, but medicine has lots of new things to help.
Brian: “Like CHEMO! Pause…But it makes your hair fall out.”
Ian: “What is Cancer?”
Me: “Welllll, do you know about cells? Your body is made of a bazillion cells? and…”
GEEEEZ! When are we gonna get to their bus stop? Please… drive faster!
It’s obvious that these boys are extremely bright and that their parents love them very much, and have done all the right things to help them deal with this. They also seem to need to talk about their Dad’s cancer some more. I looked like a “safe” person. A stranger that they felt like could trust with their feelings. I passed the short test: I cared enough about them to show them how to knit, I listened to them, I didn’t freak out at the word Testicular, and I didn’t bash Lance Armstrong.
My children were 5 and 10 when they first heard that their Mom has MS. I too thought I did all of the right things to help them deal with this. Did I? These boys clearly asked me questions that someone had already answered for them, like “can you die from cancer?” Maybe even, “What is cancer?” Someone giving better answers I’m sure, but these boys still had an overflow of emotions regarding this, that they still needed to get it “out”. A healthy way to do that was to “talk about it”.
Did I do the right things for my kids? I realize now, that I could have done more. A talk/play group. Something run by someone professional…qualified. Run by someone who knew HOW to get the kids to talk comfortably about their feelings, specifically those feelings regarding my illness. I was not that person for these boys. I do feel though, that I did no harm. These boys will be fine; they are emotionally able to talk, and they’ll find a person to talk to.
Comments: How have you helped the children in your life deal with your chronic illness, or maybe that of a close family member, a Grandparent, sibling, or Aunt, or Uncle? Can you think of other ways that someone might try to help their children cope?
Please share. It’s a tough time for the children too.
Some articles that you may find helpful and the websites that I found them in:
10 Challenges for Parents With Chronic Illness
Parents and Chronic Illness
5 tips for parents with chronic conditions