Sunday, August 26, 2007

the hardest

This post is written as a response to the thoughts that have been knocking around in my head since reading Blondie's piece from yesterday.

I wrote last year after finishing chemo (the first six rounds, that were supposed to cure me) that it was the hardest thing I'd ever done.

But yesterday, Blondie reminded me that I was wrong.

The hardest thing that I have ever done was tell my oldest son that I have cancer.

And then that it had come back.

To knowingly inflict pain this way on my child. I don't really have the words to express how much this hurt.

Blondie and I met at the BlogHer conference. We had a conversation at the end of a wine-soaked evening, during which she told me about her mother's cancer and how Blondie would sneak into her mother's room and hold a mirror under her mother's mouth, just to make sure she was still breathing.

The very thought makes me gasp a little.

Like Blondie's mom (who is now healthy and who told me that we had at least one chemo drug in common, in yesterday's comments), I spent the days following each chemo (which were always over a week end), lying in the dark, unable to tolerate movement, sound or light. My spouse (as well as family and friends) would make sure these week ends were full of distractions for the boys but I know they found it confusing and frightening that their mother was unable to respond to their needs.

And then, last fall, I put chemo and radiation behind me and returned to work, only to find out within weeks that the cancer had spread to my liver.

When the oncologist confirmed this diagnosis, my first words were, "I have two beautiful children!" When I asked him how much time I had, he said, "Years. Not decades."

When we told S. about the recurrence, he was very stoic and calm. We explained that I would once again be in treatment but that I had very good doctors and that we were going to do everything we could to fight the cancer. This time, he didn't ask if I was going to die. I'm glad, because I didn't want to lie to him.

I was in so much pain during that time (and so swollen from fluid buildup on my liver).

And, then, like Blondie's mom, I found myself in hospital with an infection. S. did not have to step through an airlock when he visited me but he did have to wear a mask, due to a cough (one that started when he entered the hospital and disappeared as soon as he left).

Those first few weeks after the metastasis was diagnosed are very blurred in my memory, made hazy by shock, pain and the drugs used to relieve those things.

And through it all, S. did not talk about the cancer.

Then, one day, after the dust had settled and the benefits of (much gentler) chemo had begun to take effect, there was an incident at school that revealed how much anxiety he'd been bottling up inside.

I took him home, told him that the principal had told me what happened.

I told him that I wasn't angry.

I said that I loved him very much and that he could talk to me about anything.

I told him that I was already feeling much better (which was true) and that I wasn't going anywhere any time soon.

And I set about finding a therapist.

But S. balked at the idea of talking to a therapist.

And as the weeks, then months, passed and my health was obviously improving (and ultrasounds indicated that the tumours had stabilized), we saw him relax.

By the time we went to Florida in March, he was the happiest, most confident and most at ease that he had been, not just since the cancer, but since starting school, a couple of years previously.

He ended up having a great year at school and, in July, we were able to share the news with him that my latest CT scan had revealed that my "innumerable tumours" have disappeared.

So the therapist got put on the back-burner.

But Blondie has me thinking that it might be time to make finding a therapist a priority. Someone S. could meet and to whom he could turn should he need to talk.

Because who knows what the future will bring? I plan to continue to defy expectations but I need to make sure that my children are cared for, in every way, and no matter what.

I realize, too, that the impact of cancer could manifest itself months, years or even decades into the future.

Even little D., who seems oblivious (but who knows how much he is taking in?), will not remember a time when his mother did not have cancer.

Like Blondie, I've done a lot of work in therapy (and like her, it took some doing to find the right therapist), dealing with issues from my own childhood.

I need to trust that my kids will have the strength, the resources, the willingness and the courage to deal with their own cancer fallout, if and when they need to, just as Blondie is doing now.

This is not the most eloquent piece I have ever written.

But it was the hardest.

And it was important to me to write it.


Blondie said...

It IS an eloquent post--and so fascinating to hear about another person's similar experience, but from the parent perspective this time.

I don't recall ever acting out in school, but I'm sure I did. And I do remember going to some family counseling sessions with a not-so-good therapist.

I would encourage you to find your son a therapist now, just because it never hurts. I am proud of your family for working to distract the kiddos after treatments even though it must be very hard. You are a wonderful momma!

When Ma told me she had cancer for the second time, she had me feel the tumor in her leg and told me not to be scared. I still remember what it felt like--odd. So these childhood things stay with us. But they make us stronger faster than our peers. And so we learn to cope and handle life's misfortunes much earlier than others--which I think is a special gift. :)

Much love to your family!!

Chris said...

You are one the most wonderful mothers that I have had the pleasure of knowing, (sort of) cyber knowing anyway. You are just awsome all the way around...

mom2amara said...

Your strength amazes me.

Being a mother is hard enough. And you have had this tossed on to you and your family as if you did not have a care in the world.

You are getting through this experience with flying colors - and I know one day your children will look back and see what a wonderful job you did during these trying times!

dorothy said...

Laurie, I'm Blondie's sister. You look awfully familiar - I think I met you at BlogHer, too.

I'd also recommend (not that you asked me to) in addition to presenting the idea of a therapist giving your children Blondie's and my e-mail addresses and encouraging your kids to e-mail people with their thoughts. They probably won't want to open up, because kids don't want to discuss things that make them different during that phase of their lives. They just want it to go away.

You didn't do this to your kids - always remember that. As a mom now, I can much more clearly see what my mom was going through. As a kid, I only saw the physical side of it. Disease is so unfair to moms and to kids, because moms are supposed to be the ones who can make all the bad stuff go away. Moms are not supposed to be victims. So what do you do when you are? I don't think we as a society have answered that question yet.

You're doing a great job. For one minute, though, I want to focus on you. This sucks for you. I'm so sorry this happened to you. Nobody should ever have to go through what you are going through. It is hard, and you are being so brave. Make sure you get the love and support that you need as well as worrying about your kids.

Het said...

Laurie -

You know I'm a long term lurker. This post just touched me. I can't imagine having that conversation with my girls.

You are an amazing woman with strength in plenty.

Many, many hugs.


winslow1204 said...

What a touching post.. My heart was clinching in my chest as I read it. You are an amazing woman!!

Suzanne said...

Laurie, Your post brought tears to my eyes and thoughts of my grandchildren. Like D, my grandson cannot remember a mother pre-cancer. He is now acting out a lot and a superb therapist is helping. The right therapist can certainly help your son over the roller-coaster ride he has had. Please encourage him to accept it. But even without...I know you and I know T; your children are blessed in their parents. They can feel your love your intelligence and your honesty. It goes a long way.

thejunkyswife said...

I agree with IS actually really eloquent and raw and true. Your boys are so lucky to have someone so understanding...I thought of a few times when I got in trouble, and how I wish my mom had been able to stop and think of what might be causing the trouble. It's amazing that during a time when you've been vulnerable, you were able to see your son's incident with empathy.

But then again, how can you help it? They're so freakin' pretty...

laurie said...

I have tears in my eyes again. Thank you all, so very much.
And special thanks to Blondie and Dorothy. I am so moved by your story and your willingness to share your experiences.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

This was just heart wrenching. We mamas always want so desperately to protect our babies from hurt and sadness...