I try not to talk about my son too much on here, but a friend recently pointed out that people probably want to know how we are handling my cancer diagnosis with him. Let me tell you, it is difficult. My son is two and a half, and speech-delayed. This means that while most children his age are speaking in full sentences and (mostly) able to carry on conversations, my child struggles to express what he wants or needs. As for understanding what we are saying to him… well, we honestly haven’t the slightest clue how much he is understanding and how much is flying right past him. We plug along. He has made some amazing progress recently, but it is still a struggle.
MD Anderson has some great advice about talking to your kids about cancer. It’s called the “Three C’s“. I stumbled on it when I was first trying to learn about my cancer. Basically, the Three C’s are:
- The name of the disease is Cancer. Kids don’t have the deep connotations that we adults put on that word. You can tell them that someone has cancer and it’s not a big deal. It’s also important that they be told that someone has cancer, not just that they are “sick”. Kids get sick all the time, and you don’t want them to think they will be as sick as a cancer patient.
- Along those same lines, it’s important to stress that they cannot Catch cancer.
- Finally, and most importantly, children must be told that they did not Cause the cancer. Children at a young age tend to think everything in their world happens because of something they did or did not do. Therefore, if mom is very sick or gone for an extended amount of time, the child thinks it is because he/she was bad or did something wrong.
My son is two. It is impossible to go through the Three C’s with him. I was able to use them when talking to my niece, who is six. So what do we do? Well, we do everything in our power to be consistent with him. When I’m here, I am here. I parent to the absolute best of my ability. My husband has to back me up a lot more. I am often unable to struggle to put my son in time-out. He is two and fights it. So sometimes I tell him he has a time-out, but Daddy has to actually put him there.
It’s also imperative that he remains in day care. When Mama (or Mama and Daddy) are gone to Houston, he needs that normalcy of going to “school”. Also, we never know from day to day how I will feel. If it is a good day, I will keep him home, though usually only for part of the day. Grandparents and friends have also taken a huge step into his life. They have always been present and important, but now they are (for lack of a better term) more prominent. Occasionally they have to step into the “parent” role rather than the grandparent or friend role. There were many occasions after my surgery where someone would have to go with me to run an errand or to take him to the doctor. That person would have to enforce whatever I said, because I physically could not.
All this change is definitely making an impact on him. He is acting out much more than he ever has before. He is testing his boundaries, yes, but it is more than that. He knows something is going on, but he doesn’t understand. Nor does he have the words to express how he feels. Some days I cry. Not in front of him, of course, but it is a struggle not to think that I am somehow ruining my child. I cannot think that way. I have to be the parent that I am. Period. I pray a lot.
I don’t have all the answers. We have to take each day as it comes. My husband and I are as consistent as we can be. We give each other breaks as often as is possible, but for the most part we parent together in almost every situation. I spend every minute that I am feeling well doing whatever Little Man wants to do. We cuddle, we read books, we play with cars and do puzzles. We talk about colors and shapes. I make him use his words, even when it frustrates him. In other words, I am my son’s parent. Cancer does not change that. Nor should it.