How do you explain cancer to a child?
I'll follow up that question by saying I don't think there's a correct answer.
Y'all know that I have a special little man in my life. He's now 6 and pretty much the greatest kid ever. We're lucky that we have him 50% of the time, and I feel so thankful to have been able to develop an awesome relationship with him. G was 3 when I was diagnosed with melanoma. We never told G what was going on, just that I was a little sick and the doctors had to make me better. He was around during my recoveries after both surgeries, he has inspected my battle wounds, and he still references the sunken "hole" I have in the side of my neck. During the recovery period he was told quite often to be gentle with me.
We've always gotten away with just telling G that I was a little sick, the doctors had to make me better, and that's why I have scars. He was 3 for goodness sake! It was easy! He knows the importance of sunscreen--and as his mom told me, he's quick to remind everyone else of the importance of sunscreen--and while he knows that the lack of sun protection led me to this disease, he doesn't know the disease by name. It isn't something we talk about yet. I've never--nor do I want to--tell G that I had/have cancer. Not yet.
Tonight we ran into a little situation.
Our beautiful friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. As she has a husband and two young children, we wanted to do a little something that could help make things a tiny bit easier so we took dinner to them tonight. G made a card, wrote "Get well soon!" and knew to be very gentle with Mrs. Mel. We didn't think anything else about telling Gavin the reason why Mel is sick.
As we were driving down the road tonight, G says, "Why is she sick?" I start babbling about how she had a surgery that is similar to the one I had a few years ago, and G interrupts me, "I know, but what made her sick? What made her have to have surgery?"
How do you introduce Cancer to a sensitive 6 year old?
Mr. Spots and I both started babbling. I have no idea what he said, I said something like "she was a little sick so the doctors had to remove what was making her sick!" and then I changed the subject.
I know. I'm postponing it. But I know this kid.... I know he will worry about it, and I know Cancer will be mentioned until something else comes around for him to worry about. He's just like that. He has a sensitive heart and he will worry. So I avoided it. Again.
Only a few hours later, it almost came back up again.
I was tucking him into bed, giving him one last snuggle, when he said "I don't want you to leave." I said, "I know! But we are going to spend all day tomorrow and I'll be back in just a few days!" He asked me why I have to go, and then he said one little statement that hurt my heart: "We will need to be gentle with you."
I don't know if it's because of seeing Mrs. Mel tonight that reminded him of the recovery days, or if he just associates me going to NY for appointments as being something that may cause me pain, but he understands the seriousness of these trips.
I just can't introduce such a cruel disease to him just yet. He has seen enough of it without even knowing what it is. Can't I just protect him for a little longer?
On that note, I'm off to bed. It's that time again. That time being the time to fly back to New York for my next set of scans and treatment. Fingers crossed...