Childhood cancer demands so much more than a pound of flesh. He not only demands the brutalities of treatment, impacts of survivorship on the child, the unthinkable loss of some children, he also demands so much of every person who loves that child.
If you have only recently heard the words ‘your child has cancer’,
I am sorry in advance for what you are about to embark on
If you’re the middle of this shit show or in recovery from it, I wish we’d met under completely different circumstances.
Since our first steps into children’s oncology, it has been my deepest wish that no family, including yours, ever has to walk these halls.
But until the big, beautiful research brains solve the puzzle, there will be parents like you, holding trusting little hands, telling them that they can do it.
What you need to know right now, is that you are capable of this.
YOU can do this
What your ‘capable’ looks like from day to day is going to vary enormously, but you will get through each day.
You will survive this
Sometimes we are so caught up in the idea of tenacity and resilience that it’s tempting to skip past the pain bit. To skip past allowing the feelings of anger, and distress, and fear to settle in and do their jobs, because they do have important jobs.
There is no correct order of feelings, there are no right ways of getting by.
You are here and however you turn up today, there is power and strength in that
Crying in the shower or raging alone in the car in the hospital car park, it may not feel like it, but that IS coping. Running a marathon, starting a charity, hosting fundraisers, eating all your feelings – these are all different versions of coping.
Holding your child down for a treatment while they buck and scream is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. If you spend the rest of the day lying on the couch or bed doing nothing but watching TV with them and pouring your love into them, while the dishes and laundry pile up… that is legitimate coping.
Even if it feels like drowning, like suffocation, even if it still does.
If you’re working on yourself or resigned to it or just hanging onto that cliff with white, bleeding knuckles, you are surviving.
Give yourself some love and some credit for that.
Tenacity and resilience are about how to get up AFTER the hardest part.
Coping looks different on everyone.
Your coping is going to look vastly different to other parents and that’s OK too.
Comparison is a game with no winners, but it’s one you may find yourself slipping into
Childhood cancer is a marathon and keeping connected to your friends and family, tending to your non cancer relationships, is so important.
Similarly, you may find it hard to tap into your own genuine and legitimate pain and grief if you compare yourself to other families with childhood cancer, and their experiences.
You never have to look very much further than the next bed to find a family with a seemingly more difficult diagnosis, complex treatment, pessimistic outcome, personal shit-show.
Comparing your own experience to theirs and finding that it comes up short in the Olympics of suffering, doesn’t mean that your hard is any easier.
The hardest thing to happen to YOU is still the hardest thing that has happened to you.
Deciding that your hard isn’t hard ENOUGH, in comparison, doesn’t give your grief and pain a chance to heal. It allows it to fester.
Let it in
Everything doesn’t happen for a reason, there are sometimes no silver linings, sometimes that glass is not half anything – it’s just damned empty.
It is OK not to scrounge around to find the joy in every, single, moment. Sometimes it’s OK to take a big breath and sink deep into how hard life is. It’s OK to fall to your knees.
It’s OK if your children see you fall to your knees. It’s OK for them to see you broken and bruised. What they will see is someone who wholly accepts their feelings.
Then you can make sure that they see you get up, dust yourself off, wipe away your smudged mascara and get on with it.
There will a time later for healing, for becoming whole again. It’s OK to let yourself break a little for now.
Maybe one day you can be like a Kintsugi, the Japanese Art of repairing broken pottery with gold. The repairing celebrates the breaks, it makes the pot even more beautiful and stronger than before. What was once your breaks, and your bruises may become your shining strengths.
My family, many of my friends are forever altered by childhood cancer. I am.
I am quick to find gratitude. I accept my pain and suffering with a welcome I was unable to do before childhood cancer. I try to learn the lessons they send me. My joy and hope are so deep and rich, you could taste it.
Childhood cancer invited me to live a more connected and passionate life.
While I deeply wish you weren’t in the trenches of childhood cancer, now that you’re here, I do hope on your bad days you give yourself permission to fall to your knees. I hope that on your good days you can find joy and hope so deep and rich, you can taste it.