1.06.2014

Using the C Word

If we go back 2 years, you'll find newly diagnosed me driving Merrick to preschool and still nursing a crawling baby and changing diapers. Unfortunately, I'm still changing diapers, but at least the last pacifier was destroyed over Christmas.

Though many decisions had to be tossed around a few times upon diagnosis, I was pretty set on one thing from the beginning; our very perceptive boy would not hear the word CANCER from us. Even in casual conversation.

I never wanted him to have a reason to be afraid, despite the obvious fear that engulfed us then and now.

We are self-professed news junkies who have never made much of an attempt to shield our kids from the images and words that come on the TV every night. I know this can be argued both ways, and some parents would easily put us in time out for knowing our children see graphic imagines splashed across the nightly news while sitting at the table coloring. They are both very secure in their little world, but I don't hesitate to bring up dialogue about world events and suffering. I want them to know that life isn't perfect, bad things happen and not everyone has an entire room devoted to toys, the chance to go to school or goes to bed every night knowing that they will sleep peacefully.

But this isn't about how we parent in relation to foreign policy or politics. This is about how we tip toe around the one bad thing on the news that happens to be a visitor in our house, not just a ticker across the TV.

How have we addressed the subject of cancer with the kids?

I'll start with the shortest and easiest paragraph. Lachlan was a baby and is still very much is a baby. He's only now starting to talk and so his understanding of things around him is simple. He is not nearly the perceptive and inquisitive child that Merrick will forever be.

Merrick's desire for complex understanding is intense, and so taking baby steps into my little reality with him has been delicate.

From the beginning we could not hide that I was sick. Between surgery, being in bed much of the time, being absent completely during treatment days, having Memaw move in with us, carrying around my pump, having "noodles" coming out of my arm, having a port in my chest and shaving my remaining hair, it was obvious that something was amiss.

At this point, Merrick simply knows that mommy is sick. He knows that I had germs in my belly that they had to take out, and I had to get "special medicine" to kill the remaining germs. He knows there was a "red thing" in my belly that had to come out, and has made note of the 3 inch scar running through my new and improved belly button. He has seen me sick, weak and at my emotional rock bottom. He knows the difference between the mommy who can barely stand for any length of time and the mommy who is always challenging him to a race.

He knows that some of those germs are now in my lungs and I had to get more "special medicine" to kill them, which in turn left mommy parenting from the bed much of the time. Of all the things I've been through, I've watched his eyes and his little brain turn as he's witnessed changes and been exposed to new and different things.

Though all of it, waking up to me with a bald head was probably the biggest event for him. It was the most visual and graphic proof that I wasn't normal. It wasn't the gradual loss of 20 pounds or the implanting of a magical button in my chest. It was waking up to bald mommy. For weeks, he demanded I wear a beanie whenever I was around him to ease the shock. He did not like me, which was understandable.

So why not use the big C word now? I have to say it's something I contemplate, especially as he is at the age when there are cancer resources available to him. There are camps and groups and events for children effected by cancer. And though he qualifies, I wonder if he'd really fit in.

I think my hesitancy is in the same place it was 2 years ago. Though death is very much a reality for anyone dealing with metastatic disease, that is not a thought I want in Merrick's over analytical mind right now. At this point, I don't want him to look up from his Legos because he hears the word cancer and death mentioned in the same sentence. I don't want him to magically pay great attention when anyone says the C word. I don't want him to think for a second that I may be that sick, because right now I'm not. I'm the mommy who does everything a normal mommy can do.

The longer I can preserve his innocence and his perception of my invincibility, the better.

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