This week in my New Idea column, I wrote about telling your kids you have cancer. Talking to our little man about my diagnosis has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. When he looks at me with his gorgeous little face, pleading for me to play with him it’s hard to say no.
On the day we told him, I just wanted to cry. Sitting in the back seat of our very messy car telling a child about something that he can’t fully comprehend but could significantly impact his life is hard. You try to find the right words – the ones that will tell it how it is but without worrying him but they don’t really exist. In the context of a child’s limited understanding of their world, how do you tell them in a non-scary way that everything could change?
Last week he reminded me of a sport he used to play which we had to give up this term because we just couldn’t fit it in with our schedule and all my medical appointments. “We couldn’t do it this term because of Mama’s bumps,” I told him.
“But there’s the spot near the house with the shade and the steps and you can sit,” he replied. I felt so guilty. I wish it was just about sun and standing versus shade and sitting.
This week is also the first time he has started to talk about it without us having to raise it first. I was cuddling him before bed and he head-butted where my port is. I try not to react but it really bloody hurts. “I wish you were all better,” he said as he very gently rested his head further to the right of my chest. Me too kiddo.
Other times he reminds me of my ‘bumps’ and that I could hurt myself doing different things. I have to reassure him that I’m a big girl and I know if I can do something or not. “Okay,” he’ll say with a hefty dose of scepticism.
As with many kids, he is very intuitive and at times you can tell he understands that this is big. He knows that he knows something, but he’s not sure what that something is. It’s very complicated being a pre-schooler!
We’ve also changed the way we explain certain things. We used to say ‘we will always be here’. That’s never true for any kid but most of the time they don’t learn that until they’re old enough to understand the circle of life. Now I say “I will always be your Mama”. Dead or alive, that can’t be changed.
Thankfully he hasn’t asked about death yet because I’m not quite sure how I’ll tackle it. Especially not to the kid who, after being allowed to watch the first Harry Potter movie one school holidays, went to school and told all the kids “Harry’s parents are dead” without even so much as a spoiler alert.
There are people who think we’re crazy for being so open with the little dude but kids aren’t dumb and we’ve promised never to lie to him. It’s also hard to keep a secret when you’ve got a chemo pump attached to your chest and then sleep for four days, not to mention that I’m not going to work at the moment and I’ve been operated on four times! He has eagerly watched me have stitches removed, help silence the alarm on my chemo pump, woken me for dinner during chemo-induced sleep, endured doctors appointments and sat with me when recovering from my various surgeries. It’s only fair to be honest with him about why.
The conversations will keep on happening and all anyone can do is their best. I haven’t sworn when explaining things to him yet so I’m pretty proud and he doesn’t seem too traumatised by it so we must be doing OK!