I often get asked how my kids have dealt with my cancer diagnosis. When did we tell them? How did we tell them? Am I open with them in regards to my continuing treatment, challenges, questions, etc.
The way Mike and I have chosen to share with our kids is based on our very open communication and “nothing hidden” philosophy. Our kids were older when I was diagnosed. 24, 19 and 17. And four years before that…..they faced the potential reality of their parents getting a divorce. So for us, as parents, it was a no brainer. What affects one in our family, effects us ALL. Therefore, we are open and honest……lending grace and compassion, allowing each to respond and experience as they need to, because they are unique individuals.
We are going on year number 3 of being a metastatic breast cancer family, and while cancer is not in our every day conversation, the kids all know that I see my oncologist every 3 months with scans every 6. They understand “stable” and they understand that it could all change in an instant. We never dwell….we LIVE.
Recently, Justin , my middle boy had to write a short piece on life changes for his freelance writing class, and he wanted me to read his final draft. I was deeply moved.
With his permission, I am sharing, his words, his raw experience, his honesty, his POV.
It would be easy to say that everything happens for a reason, but quite frankly, there are certain things in life for which a good enough reason does not exist. The look on my parent’s face was one of the utmost concern; concern for me. I didn’t notice when my knees had dropped to the floor, but they had, and in this futile position I began to cry. I simply wouldn’t be able to deal with the loss of my own mother and the thought itself left me paralyzed.
I was a typical 19 year old kid; I thought I knew everything and the world revolved around me. My parents used to pick me up and give me rides home from work almost every night, for which I was never grateful enough for, considering I had just crashed a brand new Chevy Blazer while driving under the influence that my Father had taken a loan out to purchase for me.
I vividly remember the conversation I had with my mother over the phone that cool, autumn day. She was extremely persistent about me coming home; she and my father had something they needed to tell me. I was annoyed at her persistence. What did she have to tell me that was so important? She was probably just going to tell me to clean my room. I justified my stance with a few more petty reasons. I could hear the hurt in my mother’s voice, but as with everything else life has dealt her, she accepted it gracefully.
I was on my way to my buddy’s house who was drafted by the Major League Tampa Bay Rays, and had received a huge signing bonus. Naturally, he rented out a house and we threw parties. I didn’t care what my parents wanted, I wanted to go party, but shortly after our conversation my conscious began to tell me to go home. It was an intuitive sense that one feels when their family is in danger. Soon after arriving to my friend’s house, I hopped on my Sector-9 shortboard and left. With every kick and push on the pavement, I could feel my heart thumping harder and faster against my chest. I was extremely nervous.
I remember “sneaking” in the front door, as I would usually do when I came home drunk, although this time I was sober. I walked up the total of 15 stairs, but this time it felt like 1500. As i rounded the corner up to my parents room, they both turned their heads and looked in my direction. They seemed surprised to see me, as if they had resolved to themselves that I was a lost cause. The vibe in the room was dark, and I could tell that something was seriously wrong. I wont ever forget the tan-orange hue of the dimly lit room; the image sends chills down my spine.
My anxiety was through the roof at this point, but I simply said “What’s up?”. There was an awkward silence, and the world seemed to stop on it’s axis, if only for this moment in time. They paused and looked at each other before my mother simply nodded at my father. I didn’t have a reaction prepared for this news. “Your mother has a lump in her breast”, my father said. My heart sunk in my chest as swiftly as a ship’s anchor falls to the sea floor. I bawled for what seemed like an eternity. I was never one to cry; it felt so unnatural. “They don’t know what it is yet, we’re going to find out on Friday”.
I knew what it was. I gave my mother a big hug and left the room. I flopped down, face-first on my blue twin-sized bed. The dark blue sheets under my eye sockets became darker. “Why are all these horrible things happening to me?”, I asked myself. Suddenly, I was struck with an extreme sense of pain and guilt. Perhaps it was in this painful moment, I felt the first change in myself. These things that were happening to me, were actually happening to US. We, as a family, have to be in this together, just as my parents had my back when I crashed my car.
My mother is still living with Stage 4 Metastatic breast cancer, but she is enjoying life more than she ever has. I believe we as a family are all in a better state now than we were before my mother’s diagnosis. Maybe it gave us all a new perspective on life, I know it did for me. Sometimes you have to brave the storm to see the sunshine, and I’m happy to say that the Glenn family is no longer surviving, we’re truly living.
This piece blessed me more than anything.
It is a reminder that my little “family” is gold and we can weather anything together, when we remain open and honest to the experiences and crap that life hands us. We believe in each other, and I think that is what sets us apart from others. There are no expectations, rules or belief systems that transcend our family, we just allow each other to BE. The greatest freedom there is.
I would love to hear your stories on how your children have responded to a crisis in your family? Good, bad, ugly, life giving, life changing, it all matters. Your story might just change a life. Mine included.