“We’re going to wait to talk to Noah- until it’s absolutely necessary. No point getting him worked up until we know what’s going on.” Is what I said.
“I’m going to wait until I can avoid this topic no more. And while I’m waiting- I’m going to pray for rapture. I can’t do this.” Is what I meant. Noah was 9. I considered waiting until he was in college. Telling the college boys was hard enough, and I’d already done that.
Apparently, God doesn’t honor requests for convenient rapture scheduling. So, we had to have: The Talk. Not the one about sex- at this point that will be a breeze- this is the talk about cancer. Not a general one. A specific one. The one where we tell a 9 year old, that his dad has cancer.
Desperate not to screw him up for life- (or maybe to put it off by preparing instead of doing..) I started with research. I scoured the internets and the bookstores for books about cancer.
I bought one. I read it. It scared me. I hid it behind the bill basket in the kitchen. (No one ventures back there- it’s like- tomb of our home.) I bought another one. I read it. It showed pictures of IV poles and bald headed mommies. It talked about the things I wanted to avoid. It talked about things that aren’t applicable in our situation. It talked about when people don’t get better. It said sometimes people die. I cried. I shoved it somewhere that I can’t even remember. We’ll most likely find it while looking for something else, like my car keys, or tampons.
Appointments kept being made.
Suddenly Mom and Dad came home from “meetings” with tear stained eyes.
We. Couldn’t. Wait. Any longer. A 9 year old notices tears. A 9 year old notices a sudden exponential increase in doctor’s appointments.
Finally we decided to talk to him. With 1 caveat. I refused to use the word: cancer.
I brought it up when we were out to dinner.
I talked about the doctors appointments. And then I went all Bill-Nye the science guy on the poor kid. I explained about cells and computers and a glitch in the system that makes the cells grow like crazy. I told him “Daddy has a glitch and the doctor’s are going to make it better.”
“Oh. Okay.” He said. The kid seemed fine.
I took a deep breath. “Whew.” There- he knows. He’s fine. It didn’t wreck him.”
Except, he didn’t. Even through my own denial and fear, I knew it wasn’t good. It was comfortable.. but it wasn’t good.
My husband mouthed across the table: “Tell him it’s cancer.”
He was right.
“Noah, dad has cancer.”
The tears started.
The crying started.
The denial died. We talked about prostates and surgery. We talked about catheters and cells and that cancer is still just the same as my Bill-Nye the science Mom explanation: A glitch. we confirmed that the doctor’s thought they could make it better.
I didn’t make any promises. I couldn’t. I WANTED too. But- There are no guarantees. The last thing I want to have happen is for my kid to think I lied at a time like this.
I wish the conversation had been more Hallmark-channel like. It wasn’t it was messy and clumsy and blurty.
I almost got away with not saying the “C” word.
I was pretty sure that doing so was going to ruin my kid’s life forever.
For a while- it was pretty awful. If the word “cancer” was mentioned- he shook and cried. That includes every PSA commercial that came on TV. Every mention of Cancer during the news and every ad for a cancer center or breakthrough medication. So did I.
Over the months- the shaking and crying slowed. Now we can hear the word “survivor” and smile. “Daddy is a survivor, right?” Noah asks. I smile- “Yes. Yes he is. right now, daddy is a survivor. He’s fighting and the doctors are helping.”
Eventually that first book about cancer became dislodged from behind the bill-basket. Noah found it. We read it. There were more tears and lots of questions. Questions we have answers for, like:” Daddy won’t go bald, will he?” “No, right now they don’t think that kind of medicine will help. They’re using something better for daddy’s cancer.” And questions we don’t, like: “What made Daddy get cancer? He doesn’t even smoke!” and: “When can we go on a vacation? I want to go to Disney World… ” “I don;t know, honey. We have to wait to travel until daddy is better.”
He’s asked THE question. The one I was hoping to avoid by avoiding the whole cancer word….
“Will Daddy will die?” i wanted to say: “No way. Daddy will be fine.” But, I didn’t. Instead, I said:
“The doctor’s don’t think so. They think they can kill the cancer. We are asking God to heal him. God will get us through whatever happens next.” Because that’s the truth.
And we pray. A lot. Together.
the truth is- We are in this mess together. Weird as that sounds- it’s batter now that we all know.
We need each other. We need honesty. We need him to understand the times we have to leave for appointments.
We need to grieve together, and laugh together. we need to ask the scary questions, even when there are no answers.
The denial dies—- and our relationships grow.
I didn’t want to have that talk. But, I’m glad we did.
Cancer has become part of our vocabulary and discussion. It’s part of our life. A life we share.
“Dear Lord- thank you for my children and for the grace and comfort you’ve been pouring out to us as we face this cancer. Please help us all to be brave and talk about hard things- regardless of what they are- from sex to cancer life to death- you plant intimacy in the seeds of conversation. I love you Lord- amen”
Questions for readers:
Is there a topic pure avoiding with your kids?
What is it, and why?
Mom tip: instead of planning for “TALKS” try starting small conversations. Ask and answer questions…. it’s not about information- it’s about relationship and conversation;)
If I can say: Cancer. You can say what you need to- as well.