The ‘C’ Word

Last updated: January 2020

I started by turning the chemo bottles this way and that before storing them in the highest shelf of the cabinet. Now they looked like any other medication with the warning labels facing the wall.

The kids don’t need to know just yet. The ‘C’ word hadn’t entered our family discussions. It had always been someone else. Someone else who was filled with dread, pain, and fighting to carry on in ways we had taken for granted. Up until now.

I would usher them out the door in the morning. Holding back the dry heaves rather unsuccessfully.

‘Sorry, can’t drive you to school today’ I’d tell them.‘Careful at the intersection, ok?’ Before rushing to the bucket I kept in the bedroom.

They know something is wrong

My husband was right as he stroked my back, "They’re smart kids, you know. They know something’s wrong. We can’t keep acting like everything’s fine when it’s not." I nodded as my back bent with the force of the nausea and the last of my stomach contents spew into the bucket. I wiped my mouth with the facecloth he handed me and practiced my words.

They all sounded wrong:
‘Mom has cancer’
‘Mom is ok. I’m just taking a little time off work.’
‘Mom is going to be home for a little while. Thing’s will be tight, but we’re ok’

Finally, it was the kids who came to me. There comes a time when you just can’t fake things anymore. Especially to an energetic eight-year-old and an inquisitive 12-year-old with stupendous hearing.

Telling the kids

My daughter brought a gift to my bedside. A crayon coloured unicorn surrounded in birch trees under the moonlight. My son stood in the doorway. The jig was up.

Their eyes told me all I needed to know. A mix of compassion and suspicion. Unrehearsed, I asked them to crawl into the covers with me.

"I’m going to do much better soon," I told them, "it’s just that my body needs to get used to a new medication. It’s a little more challenging than I thought it would be. It’s a blood disorder called leukemia<. And with your help, I can beat this" They seemed to relax and then straighten and my son sat up quickly, "what do we do?" He asked.

Support from your children can be helpful

In the months to follow I traded the living room for the bedroom. I played video games and coloured. I watched Teletoon, Cartoon Network and Disney XD. I learned all about the drama at school and my trusty bucket was replaced by a paper bag lined pink bin.

I didn’t hide anymore. I’d spew in the bin and curse a string of epitaphs that made my kids giggle and then roar with laughter. I learned the Spongebob Squarepants song and read Diary of a Wimpy Kid over and over. I got used to anime and traded it for Disney. I found new music and a new way of relating to my kids. Most of all I learned just how resilient and downright talented kids can be. And how incredibly helpful.

For the past eight years, we’ve been learning about this disease together. Sharing the newest information and keeping hope alive. The ‘C’ word just doesn’t scare us anymore. I realized that the biggest fear was that we’d be separated from each other. That we’d lose each other through this struggle. But in a weird and beautiful way, it brought us closer together. For that, I continue to remain grateful. From that, I will never hide again.

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