When Your Child Has Cancer
by Michele Pierce
You wake up. You only have a second before reality punches you in the gut. The tears begin to fall. Soon they are streaming down your face. But you fight them off. You must be strong. You tell yourself that everything will be OK.
All day, you walk aimlessly around the house, trying to rid yourself of the giant knot in the pit of your stomach. When you speak, your words sound far away, detached, as if they did not come from your mouth. Your mind and soul are wrapped in grief. You can’t think about anything. You can’t do anything.
You become desperate for information. You search the internet. You avoid anything that looks discouraging. You look for something positive, some reassurance that your daughter will get through this. You learn about the type of cancer she has. You become more incredulous when you read that it is rare. She does not fit the typical profile. It does not make sense. The questions never stop nagging you: Why is this happening? How did it happen? Could you have done something to prevent it?
You will drown in tears if you let yourself. You think of your daughter. What do you tell her? You are not ready to tell her what the doctors already know. You worry about how she will respond. You want to be ready for anything. Will she give up? Will she think there is no hope? Will she think she will die? You decide then that you are your daughter’s warrior. No matter what, you will get her through this. You will stay positive. You will never give up. You will EXPECT that she is going to get well. There is no other acceptable outcome.
In no time, the course of treatment is set: chemo, then surgery, then more chemo. As you watch the medicine drip into her veins, the word barbaric comes to mind. The medicine is poison. It wreaks havoc on your daughter’s body in its attempt to kill the cancer. She loses weight. She loses her hair. Her immune system is destroyed. The surgery leaves her unable to walk for months.
The questions never stop nagging you:
Why is this happening?
How did it happen?
Could you have done something to prevent it?
You are silently angry. You hate that this is the only way to save your daughter’s life. But you know she is in great hands. The doctors know how to manage the side effects. Her hair will grow back. Her immune system will rebound. You begin to live life one day at a time, grateful for every good moment, knowing that at any time a bump in the road will throw you back into a maelstrom of anxiety. And through it all, you are incredibly amazed at the strength and resilience of your 12-year-old girl. She trusts the people around her and moves through the process without question.
When the treatment ends, a new cycle emerges. You daughter will have scans every three months for the next four to five years. In the weeks leading up to each scan, you worry. You pray that the cancer has not returned. Then, each time you hear that the scans are clear, you rejoice. You get a few worry-free days before the anxiety begins to seep back in.
At the same time, your daughter picks up where she left off at school. She begins planning all the things she wants to do. For the first time, the curtain of caution does not surround you as your daughter talks about her plans.
Tonight, she is going to her first prom. You quietly watch as she and her friends walk to their cars. It’s a sea of colorful dresses and black tuxedos, flowing to the sounds of chattering voices and high-heeled shoes clicking against the pavement. At this moment, your daughter shows no signs of the last three years. Right now, she is just another carefree teenager girl.
You savor these moments. You realize that although cancer has devastated your lives, it has also shown you the tremendous beauty and pleasure that can be found in everyday events. You simply feel joy that your daughter can go to a prom. For today at least, life is normal.
Michele Pierce is a cancer caregiver living in Southborough, MA.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2017.