I have four children. Two of those children are my adult aged step-daughters. The other two are my husband and I’s teenagers. Our account may be different than yours, but I learned a lot from my four children about how kids respond to cancer so I feel it’s worth sharing.
As I went through all the testing prior to my diagnosis, my school kids were probably more worried about me than my own children because I kept missing work. My adult kids didn’t really know my comings and goings since they don’t live with us and my teenagers were busy with all things teenager, which means they were so busy they didn’t know I was missing work to go to the doctor. I was diagnosed with cancer and shared it only with my husband in the beginning. Our son had a football game and our daughter had a theater production later in the week. We didn’t want to upset them or worry them until these events were over, so we waited.
I know some parents that don’t tell their children. I suppose this depends on your own family structure. We knew this wouldn’t work for our family. My husband called our eldest daughter and son-in-law and asked them to come over to the house. We called our teenage children downstairs. Our other daughter was on the road and unable to talk, so I’d actually have to call and tell her at another time. My husband was a basket case. I was calm and at peace, so I told him I was good to tell the kids. Can I just say that cool, calm, and collected was not how my children all needed me to be. They cried. They were upset. Me? I didn’t. That upset them even more. Lesson learned that night was that it would be okay to show my kids my fears, frustrations, and anger should it arise throughout all of this. At this point though, I was going to have a double mastectomy, reconstruction, and be done. It didn’t work out like that though.
Child #1 was a doer! This was how she coped with me having cancer. She organized a fundraiser. She kept everything in order. She was supportive and always there for me even when I didn’t even know I needed her. I’m sure there were many other things she did in the shadows I wasn’t even aware of too. I can’t imagine going through this without her and her constant support.
Child #2 was in denial. If she didn’t have to watch it or be around it, she could pretend it wasn’t going on. And she didn’t have to live it. She lived more than four hours away. And I needed her just as much as I needed Child #1. If I needed someone to talk to that wouldn’t ask me about my health, she was the one to call. We could talk about everything else. I knew she’d avoid cancer like the plaque. This was good for me.
Child #3 was my comic relief and photographer. She was angry at the circumstances caused by cancer. She was frustrated by how all our lives seemed to change instantly. But she loved to make me laugh and would do all sorts of things to get me to smile. She photographed much of my journey as she took selfies of us throughout the months and months of treatment. And if it wasn’t for this child, I would probably still be wearing a head covering and I would have never been photographed bald. She made me feel beautiful even at my sickest.
Child #4 was my protector. My only son. My baby. He stayed near me. He watched my skin turn yellow, red, and pasty white. That poor boy watched as I threw up more times than any child should ever have to witness. He’d tell me he loved me just as he did when he was a little bitty boy. He helped me get up when I was too weak to do it on my own and would support me when my bones hurt so badly I’d cry out in pain with each step I took. He wore pink in my honor more than any of my girls too.
Every child is different. Every child responded differently. Every child was a blesssing to me in some form or fashion. Every child was forever changed by cancer. And every child changed me forever as well. Regardless of how they responded or how they acted from month to month or even day to day was not better or worse than the other. It was just different just as they are all different. I will never hold their behavior against them either. I remember being the child and grandchild of a parent and grandparent that both had cancer. Cancer is a very scary disease and when you have it or someone you love has it, you have to find a way to cope with it. We came together as a family, and we coped with cancer in the many ways we all needed in order to survive. It worked! We are all survivors!!!