Tonight Wills was working on a social studies project about his ancestors. We called grandparents and asked questions about when our family immigrated to the United States and why. It was fascinating (more so for me, then Wills, but he’s 10). In preparation for thinking about his ancestors he had to create a timeline of things that happened in his own first 5 years of life you can find out more. We talked about where he was born, his first word (ball! Always said with an exclamation point), his trip to Mexico at 6 months old, etc… Nonchalantly I said “you could add that when you were two I got cancer.” When there wasn’t an answer I looked over at him and saw him starring intently at his paper as patches of red moved from his ears to his cheeks. “I’m not putting that mom.” He said. I sat down next to him and explained it was an important part of his life, a sad part, but nothing to be ashamed of. As I leaned down to talk more I noticed tears streaming down his face. For all the times I talk about cancer, all the programs he’s been to and listened to me share my story – I’ve never once seen him cry like this. He wouldn’t look at me- he just stared at his paper as the tears streamed down his face. Our sensitive ten year old – who doesn’t remember me without cancer, for whom life with cancer is just reality, couldn’t write it down. Couldn’t face the fact that has been all around him his whole life. My heart sank. I reached over and wiped his tears and said “I know it’s hard to share the sad parts of life. If you’d rather not include this in your list that’s ok.”
I had no idea he was harboring such sadness. We regularly talk about cancer and share how I am doing in age appropriate doses – it caught me off guard that he wasn’t comfortable talking about it himself. The tears led to a nice conversation about how it’s not something to be ashamed of or to hide from. It also reminds me that even when cancer is a part of every day like it has been for us since 2007, it isn’t easy for kids to understand or accept. He is scared. I am scared.
It breaks my heart to watch him cry. As a mom you set out to protect your children – at all costs. Bike helmets, car seats, parental controls on the ipad… Yet, here I am with metastatic breast cancer and I have the potential to cause him the most pain of his entire life. Watching his mom become sick and eventually die. The guilt and anger that comes from this thought is suffocating. How can I prepare him for this reality? How can I encourage him to talk about his feelings, to feel safe enough to share the sad parts of life with others? To accept?
It’s unfair that moms like me have to think this way… that’s why I am so passionate about research. I hold out hope that I will be here long enough to see advances in science.
And I too will focus on the happy parts.