A Granddaughter's Questions About Cancer

January 7, 2021

A caregiver discusses with her granddaughter the cancer diagnosis and treatment of a loved one.

Paige offered to help me carry packages into my car as I said goodbye. At six and a half, more adult than child, she slipped on her shoes and held the door open. Lane, her three-year-old sister, watched from the door as we walked outside. A normal, polite situation, but this isn’t the story. I can’t seem to get to the point as tears fog my glasses and the letters on the page blur. In lieu of an explanation, I offer you our conversation:

“Bubbie, will Jim be coming with us on the Christmas walk tomorrow?”

“I don’t think so, he gets tired easily and has to rest.”

“Hmm. I miss him. Can’t he just take a nap?”

“It’s not that simple. He has cancer.”

“What is cancer, is it the COVID-19 thing?”

I smile and shake my head no. Paige looks at me with her big blue eyes. She’s asking the million-dollar question.“Cancer is inside Jim, it’s not contagious to anyone else.It grows inside and multiples too fast for his body and makes him sick.”

Paige moves in closer, crosses her arms across her chest. “Tell me, has he seen the doctor?”

“Yes, he has.”

Her left eyebrow raises and the wheels of thought search for a solution.“When was the last time? Maybe the doctor can give him a shot.”

I smile following her logic.“Jim goes to the doctor every Monday and Tuesday to get shots.”

Her eyes widen. “Oh. Well, what is in the shots.”

I don’t want her to worry. Paige has her own fears of doctors and musters the courage to proceed even when she is afraid.Overtime she has gained faith in the shots and medicine. “His shots are different, not the quick prick that you get. His shots contain chemotherapy, a medicine in a bag. The liquid goes through a tube into a special spot on his chest called a port and the medicine drips in slowly over an hour. This makes it not hurt.”

Mara, my daughter, calls Paige back in the house. Paige ignores the calls. “Is it working?”

Elly, my youngest daughter, comes out of the house to check if Paige is okay.They can’t see her from the window or door. The cold air circles Paige’s question. I wave at Elly and her mom feeling a pressure to end the conversation. I look into Paige’s hope filled eyes.“Not really, the medicine is supposed to stop the cancer from growing. The effects make Jim more tired and sometimes sick.”

Paige’s reaction mimics my own. “If it isn’t working, they should try something else. How long has this been going on?”

I shrug.“Over seven years.”

The enormity of time causes Paige to pause. “Bubbie, that is more years than me. A long time.”

I flash back to the beginning when Jim was diagnosed and the two subsequent stem cell transplants that followed.Mara’s pregnancy and Paige’s birth brought sunshine into our lives.Jim’s journey with the highs and lows has reached a critical stage.We are waiting for another miracle—a trial using CAR-T immunotherapy.

I whisper, “The doctors tells us that time helps find new ways to help Jim heal. You better go in as your mom is worried about you. We can talk later.”

Paige gives me hug. “Tell Jim I love him.Remember to give him the picture I drew for him.”

She runs back into the house. I return home to find Jim resting in his big chair. He hasn’t slept much he can’t eat dinner. The chemotherapy is making him sicker; the cancer is alive and growing.

I relate Paige’s and conversation.We smile as the tears silently flow.