Technically Emily, 7 and Josh, 4 are my children. Some days it feels more like they are my boss, my taxi customers, my appraisers, my lodgers, but they are technically my children.
Telling them I had cancer was always going to be tough. Both in trying to explain what they didn’t understand and trying to manage what they did. Emily has been scared of the word cancer for a few months. Her best friend’s Granny passed away after a short battle with cancer and, from what I can tell, it has been mentioned by other children at school when grandparents have died.
To Emily cancer = death.
Given that the girl cries when I break a bowl as the bowl has now died, telling her I had what she considered a death sentence was a fate worse than…well, death.
I knew I wanted to remain positive with her and reassure her.
Then the day after my diagnosis she started talking about Granny (her best friends gran) and how she had brain cancer. I saw the opportunity so said granny had a very bad cancer.
“Are there good cancers then??”
I went with the ambiguous “kind of…” I said I have a cancer but it’s easier to treat than Granny’s. They’ll just cut it out. I left out the full mastectomy details as that may have traumatised her beyond anything I could rectify with haribo. Emily’s main concern then became the blood….
Cue full over-dramatic scene with her acting out how she faints whenever she sees blood… I swear if this girl isn’t an actress when she’s older then I’m a page 3 girl.
I left her to her theatrics satisfied we’d covered enough for one sitting.
Now time to tell Josh .
“Josh, did you hear me tell Emily that mummy has breast cancer?”
“breast cancer who?”
“It’s not a knock knock joke Josh”
“Josh it’s NOT a knock knock joke!!!”
Cue hysterical laughing (from him…I expect a bit more from jokes…like humour)
So I think it’s fair to say that initial attempt was less than successful.
But now the seeds had been sown with Emily, over the next few days I slowly dropped bits into conversation. I didn’t want cancer to be a scary word or something we didn’t talk about. I didn’t want it to become the Voldemort of our lives (SORRY! he who must not be named….) So I name dropped cancer every chance I got. Even Paul Burrell couldn’t name drop Princess Diana quicker than I was dropping the c bomb.
When shopping for beads in hobbycraft I said “ooh we could get some extra so you can make me a bracelet while I’m in hospital”
“when are you going to hospital?”
“I’m going in for a few days so they cut out the cancer remember?”
“Oh yeah, ok which colours do you want?”
I then mentioned I’d also need some strong medicine over the next 6 months too. Ok mum (Think Kevin and Perry)
The following day I was taking my two and a friends 2 children to school. We dropped the young ones (the younger two children, not Vivian and co) off first and needed to sign in medicine. This was a complete faff and made the older two late. As we were walking round to their school I said “I hope it’s not that much hassle to get my medicine at the hospital”
Emily’s friend chips in “What medicine?”
“Mum has to have medicine at the hospital for her cancer for half a year. She always says 6 months but I don’t know why she doesn’t just say half a year”
Excellent, she understands and is slagging me off. She’s ok about it.
While Emily seemed to be taking it in, Josh was still thinking Cancer is a punchline to a dodgy knock knock joke. So I tried a different approach.
I’d been given a book by Breast Cancer Care called ‘mummy’s lump’. We sat down together and read it and I explained this is like us. I showed him how we were the characters in the story and that the lady was the same as mummy. He would gently rub my arm at the parts that mummy was sick. When we finished he wanted to read it again and again.
I think he got what was going on at the level I wanted him to. That he knew I’d be sick and wouldn’t be able to play but without the gravity that we adults have towards cancer.
The next day I started dozing on the sofa. Given Josh doesn’t usually let me complete a full blink without interrupting it was refreshing to wake up realising he’d let me rest.
I was however confused as to how the can of cherry Coke I’d opened just before dozing was now all but empty.
“Josh, have you been drinking my Coke?!?”
With a sheepish grin he replies “Well yes, I was thirsty but knew I shouldn’t disturb you” I resisted the temptation to point out the open bottle of water next to it, I was just grateful he’d let me rest.
At this stage they both seem to understand what I need them to. I’m sure it will be an ongoing process but hopefully we have some solid groundwork.
Now I just need to find a Disney Princess with a mastectomy and we’ll be sorted!You can donate now to my Boobs and Babies Fundraising! Subscribe to this blog