Babes in Cancerland

I have been thinking about writing this post for a while now, but dreading it because the reality is too harsh. I think it is time to talk about my kids and how they are handling Greg & Co.

We have three kids ages 13, 11 and 8. 7th, 6th and 2nd grade. I am going to try and keep some details anonymous by not identifying which kid I am speaking of, but it won’t work in every case so just hang on.

My oldest remembers Cancer Uno. He was 7 that year. When we told the kids the day after Christmas that I had breast cancer again, he was inconsolable. At some point that day he looked into my eyes and said, “I have worried about your cancer coming back every day for the last 5 years. You promised me it wouldn’t. You lied to me.”

—Pause for you to feel your soul crushing–

He was so angry and the only place to channel it was at me. I completely understood, even though it broke me. As he calmed over the next day, he snapped out of this mindset as anger turned to sadness and worry. He has told me many times since then that cancer has robbed him of his childhood. He doesn’t feel like a kid anymore because he is the oldest and, as such, the surrogate mother.

He has always been a responsible boy, very in line with first-born mentality. But now that I am functional 30% of the time, he has taken it upon himself to replace me. It is completely heartbreaking. He feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. He feels the need to parent the 2 younger kids, which never goes over well, creating more angst for everyone, especially considering the other two are lazy bags of bones.

I’m trying to figure out how to hide which kid is which as I tell these stories, but I am realizing it is not possible. Their patterns of behavior are too obvious. I feel badly telling their stories, as they should be able to represent their own feelings, but I have a hunch that if I asked them to sit down and write out their feelings, I would have a full walk-out on my hands.

I will take responsibility for telling everything from my perspective and someday, when they read this, I will be ready to defend myself from their wrath. I think deep down they already know that sharing your story is powerful and can help people. And I know they would want to help other people in their shoes.

So back to my oldest, who has always had anxiety. I was just like him as a child, so kind recognizes kind and I will get him all the resources he needs, to manage his anxiety. Add a double cancer diagnosis to this young child’s life and you have what I am going to call, a clusterfuck.

A few weeks ago after my first chemo, I got a call from his junior high nurse. He had become lightheaded and felt very faint. His heart rate was elevated. I knew it was a panic attack. I brought him home, we talked things through and he decided to give school another chance. A few hours later, the phone rang again. He was back in the nurse’s office. He reported that he almost fainted a few more times. The nurse (who knows about our situation in depth) was concerned and suggested a doctor visit.

We got to his pediatrician that evening. His blood pressure was off the charts. He was crying and short of breath. His panic was so very real. He asked the doctor to prove that he didn’t have cancer. To sit there beside him feeling ill myself and feeling his utter distress was about as low as a mother can feel. I did this to him. Well, my cancer did, but as much as I hate to say it, Greg = me.

Based on doctor recommendations, we have changed up some things and are back at regular therapy. I am so proud of this kid and I am so devastated for him. I know when he is grown and looks back at his childhood one of the main themes will be that he felt robbed. I can’t fix that, it is too late, but I can save up for a life time of therapy.

The middle child is the Great Wall of China. Made of absolute stone, but visible from space, in terms of presence. Whether it is absolute repression or dissociation, this child is outwardly nonplussed. I know I should see this as a huge warning sign, and I do, but to be honest, it feels like a gift to have one I don’t have to actively worry will be sent home from school in tears. Please note therapy is being tossed around like Oprah giving out cars in this household.

The baby, 8 years old, is another tragic case. This child has been breaking into tears they can’t understand at regular intervals. I can’t quantify my heartbreak, but this one feels extra large.

This baby (8 year old whom I infantilize) cries a lot. Full lip quivering, break your heart into pieces tears. A few weeks ago this child asked me what the word phase means. I explained and afterwards the child said, ‘mom, I am in an emotional phase’ as tears trickled down their face. At their age it is impossible for them to understand their feelings let alone the reason for them. This child explained some feelings like this: memories make them sad because they are happy things that can’t happen again. The therapist will have a field day with this.

It is currently spring break for us. Spoiler alert! I am not traveling with my family. They are on the trip that I planned months ago PC (pre-cancer) to California. When we told the kids that I would not be able to come and dad would take them alone, the looks of abject horror were pervasive. The littlest even asked, ‘can you rent a mom?’

They seem to be having a wonderful time, which of course I want desperately for them, but I am also deeply sad. I see pics of them covered in sand and eating french fries for what seems like every meal as I try not to puke in my bed watching my my safe space, HGTV. They all deserve a break from the sadness that is the pure existence of mom and I suppose I need the break that is a full week in bed to recover from this last chemo. Needs don’t make desire any less potent, unfortunately.

Me on spring break

If you have any interaction with my children, I ask that you watch for fragility, but also bomb them with care and fun. I can only really bomb them with baldness and nausea so I need to lean on my community for the sparkles I am unable to provide.

Hug the kids in your life tighter today and as a cautionary tale, start squirreling away money for therapy now.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Katie says:

    I know you know this, but they are going to be just fine because they have you and your husband as their parents and so many other loving adults in their lives. They are so loved and they know that, and at the end of the day that’s what really matters. Ughhhhhhhhhh


  2. Anonymous says:

    I have a 20 year old daughter that I took to Urgent Care because she was convinced she had throat cancer. She was 5 when I had bc. It’s been 15 years. Her anxiety has improved over the years and my bank account was wiped out on therapy. Ha! I can chuckle now. But her crocodile tears still rip my heart apart. It does improve over time. You are an incredible mom. Keep up the fight.


  3. Eliza says:

    I’m a grown-up version of your children. I miss my mom like hell, I never understood why I wasn’t like other teenagers (what is exactly that feeling of “nothing-can-happen-to-me?” I never knew it,) and all “fun” things come with a hardy side of loss. That being said, I’m tough as balls and living a deeply meaningful life full of loving other people because I’ve always known the value of time. I don’t waste a minute. Therapy is great. Keep going.


  4. Tia says:

    Your feelings are 100 percent legit. I get it. I feel this everyday, every problem that arises with my kids, guilt, sadness and fear.
    I have lined up teams throughout the years of therapy and help for them , hoping it’s not as bad as I imagine the damage can cause.

    You are doing everything beautifully for them and I know every ounce it consumes a mother, but know they see your strength, love and know how strong you are and you will fight and beat it again!


  5. I’ve read a lot of blogs by breast cancer patients and otherwise. Yours is the absolute best. Your intelligence, honesty, vulnerability and humour make this so relatable. I love your amazing soul. I think we too often credit kids with having more resilience than they do. This is trauma and you understand that and are doing your best to guide them through it with help and support.


  6. sady3717 says:

    It stinks that this is a part of their childhood. But, they have great support and guidance. They will come out of this with some scars and it will shape their future viewpoints and choices. Part of the fabric of their lives. Always wish we could shelter our children from the harshness of life. Sometimes all we can do is hold their hand and show them how to cope and gain resilience. Hugs to you and your family. Look forward to this being behind you again, and you being back to vacationing and being the mom you want to be. It will happen.


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