Our children learn our cancer lessons as we do.
As well as being a cancer blogger, Laura Yeager is a religious essayist and a mental health blogger. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, she teaches writing at Kent State University and Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Laura survived cancer twice.
My 13-year-old son Tommy and his classmates in seventh grade did a really loving thing recently. For Valentine's Day, they made blankets for local kids hospitalized with cancer. I applaud the teacher who organized this service project. It taught the kids a great deal about cancer - that children are not immune from the disease; that a nice, warm blanket can be comforting in the hospital; that cancer is no fun; that it's important to remember the less fortunate and give a little of yourself.
But Tommy already knows a lot about cancer. In many ways, he's an expert. This is because he's seen me go through it twice - once, when he was 8 in 2012 and again in 2016, when he was 12.
Tommy has certainly been exposed to the perils of cancer, in my case, breast cancer. He's seen me lie on the couch in pain from recent surgery, cry with worry about the future, pray with all my might that everything will be OK, complain about how radiation burns the skin until its brittle bright pink, get hideous mouth sores from chemo and lose my hair and fingernails from chemo.
He's seen most of it.
Tommy has also witnessed his brave father step in and do what I couldn't do - laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, homework. While I was immobilized, my husband did most of it. This was while working 40 hours a week as an engineer.
I'm proud of both of them.
Although Tommy struggled when I was sick, he's stronger because he went through the difficult time with me. He's more loving. He's more compassionate. He's become a better problem solver. And he doesn't want to go back. When I thought I might have to endure another major surgery recently, he said, "No more hospitals, Mom."
I'm going to try to respect his wishes. Although getting sick with cancer wasn't my fault, it still happened. Kind of like how an earthquake or a hurricane happens.
When you have cancer, your children don't miss much. They're there with you through it all. And they become little cancer experts.
I'm glad Tommy had the experience of participating in the cancer project this year. It's helped him put my two bouts of cancer into perspective. Cancer happens. That's all there is to it. For the moment.
Someday, cancer will be behind us.
Until then, we'll pray for a cure. We'll donate money to cancer research. We'll raise awareness by walking in walkathons. We'll become cancer doctors and nurses. Cancer researchers. Caregivers.
I'll never forget how when I was hospitalized for a severe infection after my first cancer surgery, Tommy and his father brought me a dozen helium balloons. Tommy gripped the balloons in his 8-year-old hand. He looked relieved that I was smiling at him. As I lay there under my white cotton hospital blanket, he leaned over and gave me a kiss. "I love you, Mommy," he said.
My little cancer expert. My Tommy.
Then, he let the balloons go.
The colorful blue, green, pink and purple cellophane orbs floating to the ceiling made me cry with joy.