One of my immediate internal monologues when I found out that I have cancer went a little bit like this:
How do I tell my babies that I have cancer?
Should I tell my babies that I have cancer?
When do I tell my babies that I have cancer?
How, exactly, do I tell my babies that I have cancer?
It was too much. It overwhelmed me. Yet every single time I looked at either of my babies (approximately 9 trillion times per second when they’re awake and approximately 3 million times per minute on the monitor when they’re asleep) I was flooded with guilt that they did not know what was happening.
We found out that I have cancer on Saturday, October 22, 2022 at 10:04am. August picked up on the change in the vibe at approximately 10:14am on Saturday, October 22, 2022. All of a sudden Mommy was very sad. Everyone got very sad. There were so many hugs. There was so many words he wasn’t familiar with being thrown around. People got really quiet. Mommy kept crying. Everyone was whispering. Conversations stopped when he entered the room. He picked it all up.
He picked it all up, and it made him angry. I understand it. He’s only 4 years old. How must it feel for a 4 year old, when all of this changes, so quickly, for seemingly no reason? I know how I would feel, as a 36 year old – and I can tell you it would not feel good. He was angry, frustrated, and started lashing out. He pushed me away. He wouldn’t look at me when I spoke to him. It broke my heart. And the internal monologue circled on, continuously in my brain. How? Should I? When? But really, HOW?!?
I Googled. I Bezos-ed. I reached out to my private July 2018 Baby group on Facebook (we’ve been together for more than 5 years now, experiencing everything in life together) surely they’d have some knowledge, right? Their responses ran the gamut, they ranged from don’t tell my kids anything to tell them everything right this very moment. I asked during my weekly SHOUTY THURSDAY Facebook post for more advice and it came. Somewhere amongst the advice, there was a book recommendation, and I ran with it:
It arrived on Tuesday. I let it sit out, on our dining room table. August touched it a few times, but didn’t show much interest in it. But I left it on the table, making sure it never got pushed aside.
On Thursday, while August was at school, Ida started grabbing books and bringing them to me to read. I seized the opportunity to practice and read Cancer Party to Ida for the very first time. I cried. Sobbed, actually. She turned to me with her 18 month old face full of concern, but I pressed on, and held her close. I finished it. She chose a book about leaves after that. Life moved forward.
Friday morning, while August was at school, Ida and I walked to the library and I spoke frankly with the two ladies working in the children section about needing some help. They leapt at the opportunity. We played in the play area for awhile, and one of the librarians arrived with a stack of books for me to choose from. While Ida played with the play-kitchen, sharing plastic produce with other kiddos, I glanced through the books that had been so carefully chosen and picked 3. I thanked the librarians more than twice on our way out the door. When we returned home, Ida came to me with more books while she snacked on her cheesy crackers. I read Cancer Party again. I only cried once. Martin came up the stairs from his basement office and heard me reading. He was so impressed I was practicing. Ida chose a book about a shy ghost after that. Life moved forward.
Saturday morning, we were all eating breakfast before our weekly trip to the Farmer’s Market. August climbed onto my lap with the books from the library and some of our books so I scooped up Cancer Party into the stack and suggested we read that one first. To my shock, relief, and awe, he agreed heartily.
It was time.
I felt ready.
My anxiety climbed.
My voice was shaky, but I tried my best to steady it.
August and I read Cancer Party.
He listened. He didn’t mess around with other things on the table.
He listened. He didn’t abandon the book in the middle.
He listened. He asked questions. I answered them as honestly and as succinctly as I possibly could.
He listened. And when we were done he turned to me and saw that I was still trying to hold it together. I said, “Did you know that I love you?” and he said, “I love you, too, Mommy. You don’t need to have the tears in your eyes.” And it made me laugh. And I held him close. And I kissed him on his head. And then he asked to read the next title we’d received from the kind librarians the day before all about cancer.
He listened again. He asked more questions. And when we were through with the second cancer book, he asked if he could take them to his bed when he was going to sleep today. That, friends, is the biggest compliment. August has a bookshelf full of lots of books, but only the special-elite-chosen books make it into his bed.
August wanted cancer books to take to bed.
Friends. He listened. He listened. He listened.
When we got home from the Farmer’s Market later that morning, after playing outside in the stunning leaf-filled autumn sunshine, August at his lunch. He wanted me to sit with him, and actually offered to share his tablet with me – that never happens. We made silly food in a silly app and we laughed. We laughed a lot.
We were close for the first time in a week.
And my heart sang.
He had listened.
I had been honest.
And it made him feel better.
And that made me feel better.
So. Much. Better.