Watching my children ride the breast cancer wave

A word (or fifty) about the children. I realize I haven’t written about them for a long time and that of course people wonder how they are. Short answer: I really think they’re fine. Good and happy and fine.IMG_0042

Longer answer: For one, I think it’s been incredibly positive for them to have my parents here. To have two more adults who love them and make them feel safe and are fun and make this time that is a cause for worry also an opportunity for something special—their grandparents living with them, all of us together under the same roof, harmonious (97% of the time!), for almost two months now, enjoying an experience we would otherwise never have. I imagine Sophie and Harrison will always remember this time, not just as when Mama had breast cancer, but also as the time that Amma and Zayde lived with us.IMG_5088

In the beginning of all this, I was more concerned about Harrison because he was resistant to talking about anything having to do with my cancer—didn’t want to ask questions, didn’t want to be near any conversations—and was clearly keeping feelings inside that would come out in whispered side comments. (“Maybe you’ll be okay”; “Sophie, you’ve heard that word ‘cancer’ before because that’s what [grandma] Ran-Ran died of”.) Sophie, on the other hand, was more transparent, asking a lot of questions, bringing up the cancer whenever it crossed her mind (or so it seemed); and so I trusted that whatever she needed to process was getting processed. (That she’s worried about the cancer. Doesn’t want me to be sick. Wonders whether kids can get breast cancer. Can she tell her friends. Will I please tell her when the cancer is gone. And so forth.)

But in the last weeks, I have felt more at ease about Harrison. I think he’s still more burdened because, or so I assume, he’s older and has a better understanding of the complexities and uncertainties. But he’s talking more, and of his own accord. I’ll share a couple of brief conversations we’ve had in the last few weeks, conversations that often happen at night when I’m tucking him into bed (not unusual with children, I know, to bring things up when they are quietly decompressing their day and their thoughts).

I always tell Harrison and Sophie the day before I’m getting my next chemo treatment, let them know that I might not be feeling well again for awhile. Two plus weeks ago, before my last AC infusion, I was kissing Harrison goodnight when he said he didn’t want me to get chemo. He said, “I’m not so worried about your breast cancer anymore because you’ve pretty much convinced me that you’re going to be okay. But I worry about the chemo because I don’t want you to feel so sick.” We talked for several more minutes until he signaled that he was done, and I left feeling relieved that 1) he’s not really worried about the cancer anymore and 2) he’s talking with me more.

I almost always wear a hat to keep my bald head warm. Every once in awhile I’ll get hot (rare these days!) and take it off; or of course it’s off when I’m getting in and out of the shower. Recently when Harrison saw me with my hat off, he hesitantly expressed some discomfort, saying, “It just makes me feel IMG_5747a little funny seeing you without your hair. It’s so different and it reminds me that you’re sick.” Again we talked for a bit, and since then I try to keep my head covered around him. Then the other night, again when I was tucking him into bed, he gently tugged at my hat. I didn’t understand at first what he was doing, but then I asked, “Do you want me to take my hat off?” He said, again a bit tentatively, “Yeah, it still makes me a little nervous, but I also want to be reminded sometimes of what you look like now.” So of course I took off my hat and asked if he wanted to touch my head, which he did, and then he said, “Okay, you can put it back on now.” It was a tender exchange that again left me feeling like, “My boy is okay.” (And sweet as can be.)

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