Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kids say the darndest things

In the last week, I've had two child-saying-something-about-cancer-experiences that have been, well, awkward.

Miss 11 and I were visiting a group she will almost positively join once we move. It's to replace a group we will be too far from to continue going to.

Anyway, we went and visited. It was lovely. She right away connected with another child there (who happens to be her same age, plays softball, and is homeschooled)! Everyone seemed friendly and welcoming and the group seems to participate in a lot of things. She was so happy at the meeting she asked if we could join right then (um, no, because you are already part of the other group and need to finish the year there).

As we were getting ready to leave, my kids were talking about their tablets. They each have a tablet and/or computer and/or mp3 player. They are blessed with technology. Pretty much all of it gifts from relatives or hand-me-downs as the next older child gets a gift! However, their original tablets (which are eye pads. Which I type as eye pads to keep spam bots from searching and leaving spam) were given to them when I was diagnosed with cancer. Because people wanted to help anyway they could (and it did).

So my daughter says, without missing a beat "Yeah, thanks mom for getting cancer! It worked out nice for us!"

Now, first of all, my daughter isn't really happy I got cancer. No tech can be better than having a healthy, active mom. Second of all, no one there knew I had cancer. This is not the first time something like this has happened. For my kids, cancer is a way of life. I had it. They lived through it. They were pretty young. My youngest probably doesn't have memories of me before cancer. We are still dealing with side effects from treatment and I still go to a fair amount of doctor's appointments. For us, in our house, it is what it is. For everyone else though, these statements can be jaw-dropping.

Cue the awkward pause. The adults looked at me (which is what usually happens).

"You had cancer?" they manage to spit out.

Yes, I say, sometimes I'll say breast cancer about 3 years ago, sometimes I don't give more info.

Another pause. Then, every time, a form of, "Well, you look good! I'd never have guessed you had cancer!"

Thank you I say, because I mean it. I appreciate not looking sick. I looked sick for a while. There was a time when if you were meeting me for the first time you would have known for sure it was cancer or you would have known for sure something big was going on.

But it's so, so very awkward for me, for the other adults. People aren't sure what to make of it. I think in general, the younger someone is, the more shocking hearing about cancer is. I don't know for sure, but it's my guess.

Then the kids are already talking about the next thing. The moment is gone. It almost feels like a secret has been told and before you can finish processing it, the conversation has moved on. Not that my cancer is, has been, or ever will be a secret, but it feels like it.

It is hard to meet people for the first time - I often wonder, do I mention cancer? Do I not? It will probably come up eventually, so I tend to wait for that moment when it comes up naturally ....

For example a few weeks ago, at the same child's basketball game, another mother asked me about my curly hair. So I said "Well, it was never this curly! But then I went through chemo and this is how it grew back. It's been a few years and I'm still not used to it." This lead to a convo about how I had cancer, what kind, how were things today. There is still some awkwardness there, but it's much less. The conversation flows more naturally and doesn't feel so forced.

I wonder, will it always be like this? Will time lessen it. In 10 years, I doubt my children (who won't really be children anymore) will just blurt out "my mom had cancer!" Unless, I guess, it comes back, but that's a whole different ball game.

Fast forward to today. We learned that we have two new babies coming in the family in the fall. I was talking to Mr. 8. We were talking about how exciting it was and how babies are always a good thing. I told him "I can't wait for these babies to be born so I can hold them! I love babies! And I love them even more when I'm not the one who has to wake up in the middle of the night with them!"

He laughed at that,  and agreed it's better to get to just hold a baby for a bit than have to wake up in the middle of the night. Then he says, "Boy mom, you must be really happy you got cancer so you can't have any more babies! I bet waking up with three of us are enough! And if you didn't get cancer, how many more babies would you have had? Probably a lot."

Um, oh, yeah, wait, what? I didn't even know what to say.

I can get it from his perspective. I can get how this makes sense. I can see his 8 year old brain trying so hard to make sense of everything. But, um, happy I got cancer? Yeah, no.

I took a few seconds and I I just told him that. "You know, I understand what you're saying, but I'm not actually happy I got cancer. Though, I love you and your sisters and I think three kids is a wonderful number to have! Even without cancer, I probably wouldn't have had any more kids."

He said ok, okay, then asked if I wanted a rainbow loom bracelet.

Just like that. Once again, this bombshell (to me anyway) gets dropped. I feel thrown off. And within seconds the kids are moved on to the next thing.

And I have to remind myself, this is their life. Cancer has existed for them for what is most of their life. Not in actual time, but in what they can remember of life. It is what it is. At home we talk openly about it (though, I want to point out, it's not like we sit around and talk about it all the time). So it makes sense that the can drop it into any conversation without giving it a second thought.

It still throws me off though. It still gives me pause. But, it also makes me glad they can talk about it, that they don't feel like it needs to be a secret. When they voice these thoughts and ideas, it gives me and my husband a chance to talk about it.

I think at the end of the day, I prefer it this way.

Though, I still don't like the awkward pauses it can bring!

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