Once when Amelia was just a tiny little cutie pie (as opposed to the even bigger cutie pie that she is now,) I woke up to a sticky note on my bathroom mirror. It said in little kid printing, “Thank you for protekting me.”
I really don’t know what prompted the note because at that time there were a lot of things she was afraid of, all likely fallout I am sure of her mom’s chemo/cancer. So, I let her sleep on the floor in my room, and I took ice skating lessons right along beside of her because she was afraid to do it alone. I did a lot of things, kind of giving her a Mulligan or two on account of the cancer. So the note, really could have been about anything.
I do make a point of having my kid’s backs first and foremost, and it feels good that they feel it. It’s not that I shield them from more difficult and maybe scary life experiences, but just I am always right there for them to cry and commiserate with, to help process a problem, or add a little strength or insight to the process of going through the tough stuff. Affording them the extra oomph that comes with knowing someone loves them and cares that they hurt, and would do anything in the world to keep them safe. A hard or fearful journey is always easier when holding a grownup hand, literally or figuratively. A soothing, “hush now,” while being hugged does wonders for a little soul.
Now Amelia, having been through my chemo and radiation and surgery is somewhat of a pint-sized authority on breast cancer, at least from a kid’s perspective. I talk to my kids all the time about life and navigating it, so conversations about the far-reaching personal impact of breast cancer have been chatted up a lot at our house. Amelia has blogged here about her infamous pink cowgirl boots, and she is the kid who is contacted by other parents when they are diagnosed, with requests that she talk to their kids about the bald mom experience. Even several years ago, when we were watching Barack Obama give a campaign speech on TV, he said “For the single mother with chronic illness who is trying to figure out how to get health insurance…” Amelia chimed in and said, “There you go mom.” Yep she gets it, she gets how far breast cancer’s gnarly fingers can reach.
Last week my now 13-year-old cutie pie and I were riding along and we passed a car that had a “1in9” sticker on it. 1in9 is a local breast cancer charity; one that I really like, so I started telling her about what they do. I explained they were a different kind of charity, one getting to the heart of the here and now impact of breast cancer treatment for women by providing funds for the everyday things gas, groceries, lodging. I explained that while research (and yes she knows how to pick a good charity based on percentages going to research) is good, this is a charity is meeting a separate and real need. “They saw a need and thought of something to do and did it,” I told her.
And suddenly this tiny kinda shaky voice blurts out, “I don’t want to get breast cancer mommy.”
Early on, we parents can tell from a particular cry from our kid exactly what is wrong, and really how serious it is. I could tell from the quiver in her voice that not only was this real, but something she had been thinking about for a while and was afraid to say out loud. She was afraid; her voice was little and anxious with something she had been wrestling with…apparantly for a while.
I had never heard this fear from her before. Never heard her wonder about herself, never understood that she had reached the place developmentally where she could put the two and two of it all together. It should have dawned on me as she was starting to bemoan me (as if it was my fault) for the genetics of inheriting an A cup, that sooner or later the other would click, about perhaps what kind of breasts she would get; ones that misbehaved.
So, I began to reason with her, telling her to hush and telling her why it wasn’t so; why odds were she would not get breast cancer. Launching into a tutorial on the facts about the BRCA 1 & 2 genes, I told her how I tested negative and how that was good. I told her also that I was also estrogen negative, and that also bid well for her future; just trying to assure her it wasn’t a done deal, like say Christina Applegate had publicly stated as she accepted as her eventual fate given her family history.
And she looked at me and said, “But Mom, everyone is getting breast cancer, more and more people are getting it and I don’t want to get it.”
And I didn’t know what to say. Because she is right.
Sure, I can try to assure her that her odds are lower because we know things now we did not know then. I can remind her that she didn’t grow up drinking milk with growth hormones in it, and with plastics that leached and living in second-hand smoke. I can assure her unlike me, she did not grow up living next to what is now a superfund cleanup site of pesticides. I can point out that we eat healthy and I don’t cook on a charcoal grill. I can point out to her she is not in front of the early low radiation computer screens like I was for years in my thirties, and that she is not getting tons of dental x-rays without a lead apron as I did as a child. I can even tease with her and tell her to stay away from the centers of Goetze caramels and pixie sticks. I can remind her of the dumb things I did, like smoking as a teen, and drinking excessively, and tell her because she most certainly will NOT be doing those things, her odds are good.
I can feed her organic chicken and milk. I can be careful about what water bottles she uses, and never use pesticides in our house. I can run with her, and teach her early on the importance of taking care of your body to reduce risk. I can keep her vitamin D levels high, and I can eliminate every known correlate in her life.
But that is all I can do. I cannot prevent it, any more than I could my own.
Because she is right, everyone is getting it.
And I can’t say hush to cancer.
Truth is, I can’t protect her….and this kills me.
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,
Mama’s going to buy you a mockingbird.
If that mockingbird won’t sing,
Mama’s going to buy you a diamond ring.
If that diamond ring turns brass,
Mama’s going to buy you a looking glass.
If that looking glass gets broke,
Mama’s going to buy you a billy goat.
If that billy goat won’t pull,
Mama’s going to buy you a cart and bull.
If that cart and bull turn over,
Mama’s going to buy you a dog named Rover.
If that dog named Rover won’t bark,
Mama’s going to buy you a horse and cart.
If that horse and cart fall down,
You’ll still be the sweetest little girl in town.
So hush little baby, don’t you cry,
Daddy loves you and so do I.