I was diagnosed with cancer on August 3rd, 2012. One of my most immediate concerns was how my children would fare through this journey. I have worked hard to create an environment where my children are free to ask questions, explore, and grow into the people they were meant to be. But how would my cancer impact their development? How would they cope with seeing me struggle? How much would I share? How would all of our lives be turned upside-down?
I decided early on that I would talk about cancer with my children with honesty. When asked about my hair, my daughter can tell you about how chemotherapy drugs work on fast growing cells. When she sees me cry, she will swoop in and give hugs and let me know that she loves me. My three year old son has thrown action figures down my shirt in hopes that "Spidey will fix your booby trapped cancer." They are both incredibly compassionate and beautiful little beings and I thank all of the stars in the sky that they are mine.
It hasn't been without difficulty. My daughter on more than one occasion has come to me worried that because her grandmother had cancer (although an unrelated cancer to the one I have), and I had cancer, that somehow she is predestined to follow in our footsteps. My children also understand that we must live frugally during cancer treatment - and due to my weakened immune system and lack of energy- sometimes that means we can't travel, go to Disney land, or sometimes even to the zoo. The anxiety, exhaustion, illness, and stress of cancer treatment often take me away from the type of parent that I want to be. I can be agitated, impatient, and despondent. Although I try very hard to rally - I am not always successful. Luckily, my husband is a very affectionate and present father who is gifted at making our children laugh. I hear them sometimes laughing when I am alone in my room - and it makes me happy and sad all at the same time. But I am doing my best. And my kids need me to prioritize rest and becoming healthy.
On August 11th, eight days after being diagnosed with cancer, I sent my husband an e-mail with a link to Camp Kesem. Camp Kesem is a special camp for children that have a family member diagnosed with cancer. They have chapters all across the country - run by students of local universities. The camp is for one full week and is completely free of charge. Once a child is eligible to go to Camp Kesem, they are guaranteed a spot at camp until they are in the ninth grade. Although there is a day for honoring loved ones, the camp does not focus on cancer. It focuses on allowing a space where these children can have fun, which is something that is often in short supply when you are dealing with cancer.
Last night I carefully packed outfits, swimsuits, towels, a sleeping bag, and all of her other necessities and prepared her for camp. She was so excited she could barely sleep. I wanted to write her letters, but the camp said that letters can often make children more homesick... so I practiced restraint. This morning, her father, brother, and I dropped her off. Caya was greeted with a huge hug when we arrived at campus. She met the other campers in her group and the counselors - and immediately began making friends. She was laughing and happy. We waved at the buses as they drove away - her brother sobbing - me trying to smile and not sob with him. I know she will have an amazing time. This will be another one of the many positive things that has come out of this experience. And in a few years, her brother will be able to join her. I told her that she would be welcome to call us this evening if she wanted to. To my surprise she didn't. I think she is probably having too much fun. I hope she calls tomorrow. I miss her.
For more information about Camp Kesem - click here.
For previous book recommendations on how to talk to children about cancer - click here.