Cancer is a "Normal" Part of Life



I’ve never had to deal with a major health crisis with my kids. The closest I got was when my brother had a stroke a few years ago. My older son was 10 months old. I held my son as I blubbered incomprehensibly on the phone to my husband, asking him to please come home right now. He said the only thing that kept him from completely freaking out when he realized I was so upset that I was unable to speak was the fact that our baby was so surprised by my behavior that he laughed and laughed. That laughter was, eventually, the thing that helped me to calm down enough to tell my husband what was happening.

I am grateful that my son was too young to remember that episode because I did not handle it well. However, I am grateful that I do remember it, and his reaction, because it was his response that made the whole situation just a little more bearable.

I was reminded of that incident as I read Molly Lindquist’s account of her daughters’ response to her cancer diagnosis and treatment. It sounds to me like Ms. Lindquist and her husband did a fabulous job of being direct and honest with their girls, of keeping the conversation on their level, of not giving them too much information, or inciting fear or worry in them.

But the thing I was struck by most in Ms. Lindquist’s piece is how she projected resilience, how she took things in stride, at least in front of her daughters, how she did not center her life around the cancer, but was able to weave it into the existing fabric of her life. Relating her body’s cells to the girls’ building blocks, not making a big deal of going bald, continuing to pick them up from school when she felt well enough, engaging other children when they were curious about her appearance all seem demonstrate that while cancer is now a part of her life, it is not her entire life. Not by a long shot.

I admire Ms. Lindquist’s ability to project stability amidst what is probably one of the most de-stabilizing experiences a family can go through and her honesty and openness with her girls. I admire the way in which so many people stepped in to help so that her family could handle the diagnosis and the treatments and the aftermath with as little drama as possible.

But most of all, I admire the way she is able to appreciate the responses and reactions she gets from children. They are responses that remind me that situations like this are normal. Everybody gets sick. We all know someone with cancer. People lose their hair, they lose limbs, they lose their lives. All of these things are sad, tragic, and . . . part of life. They are hard parts of life to deal with, but seeing them as children see them, uncluttered and unburdened from all the emotions and dramas that they acquire as we grow up and see more of the world, can help us, as adults, get through them as well.

We all wish we could raise our children in a world where there was no cancer, or strokes, or bombs, or death. But we don’t. And the next-best thing we can do is give them is stability, honesty, and the ability to take these things in stride: to be resilient and to show them how to be resilient, too.