Cancer. Undeniably the worst six-letter word I have ever heard spoken. When my mother whispered the phrase “I have cancer” through the international phone line, I was stunned. In shock. My whole world changed in a second. I was living abroad in Europe at the time, but in that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere but back in my hometown of Vancouver, WA.
Not many people have a mom like mine. She had me at the age of 42, and her mission in life was to create a world of opportunity for me. I am an only child, so every ounce of energy was a selfless act that benefited me. When I found out she had cancer, it was like I could feel the earth shift, my stable footing felt like it had fallen out from under me, and even though I was in some incredibly amazing places experiencing the world right out of college, none of it mattered anymore. I needed to be home with her, to go through this thing called cancer, and try to be there in the way she always had been for me.
The shocking thing to both of us when going to her doctor’s visits was the lack of community or education that should have come with the diagnosis. It felt like we were automatically put into a system of medical appointments and processes, but nowhere along the way was there the support system that both of us, patient and support, desperately needed to help process our emotions, our fears, and even our hopes. I remember never wanting to talk about it. I was never offended if someone asked, but my answer was always the same, “She’s good.” In actuality, she wasn’t good. She was so sick, she was a ghost of her normal self for the weeks after her treatments. My dad and I mainly supported her by just silently being there with her. Our ability to process our emotions around my mother’s cancer battle was never through words or communication. I think we each found a way to cope, or to ignore, and always to silently hope and pray that she would be okay.
We managed as well as we could though the entire process, and thankfully came out of it on the other side - today, she continues to be in remission. Looking back on that time now though, I can see we were missing the emotional supports that anyone needs when facing an illness where there is so little certainty. I wish I knew what I know now about how to better manage stress and emotions, to know that all emotions are important to feel, no matter how hard they may hit in the moment. I’ve learned a lot since then, both from my own educational training, as well as from my best friend (and co-founder of Slumberkins, Kelly Oriard) who has studied and worked with families with young children while navigating the difficult realities of a cancer diagnosis in the family.
I like to see good in everything... I learned this from my mom. So from this experience my hope is that I can at least provide some support for other families, specifically for children, when communicating that a family member has been diagnosed with cancer. Its not easy, but its important.
Almost everyone knows someone affected by a cancer. My hope is that by sharing my experience, it will bring comfort to those that may feel so alone and trapped in the process.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my daughter never had to experience emotional distress and I could just take it away, poof, abracadabra? One of the hardest things by far about being a parent is seeing our children in pain and we could instantly ease it. Seeing them sad, hurt, or at the will of an overpowering feeling like anger or anxiety triggers great discomfort in most parents and causes us to spring into action and employ our favorite “fix it” response. . .
For children just starting school (preschool or kindergarten) or for those heading into a new school environment, the countdown to the first day can cause overwhelming amounts of emotion. Trying to navigate through these unknowns can be tricky, especially for younger kids.
Here are a few ideas to help with a successful transition back-to-school for both you and your little ones...