Family Magazine

How to Talk to a Cancer Parent. Or, How to Avoid Getting Drop Kicked by a Mom on the Edge.

By Mediocremom @mediocre_mom

Since Goo’s diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma, we have been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received. Words of encouragement, prayer, meals, gas money, presents to make Goo’s days a little bit brighter, babysitting – the list goes on. I expected support because we have the most rockin’ church family ever, but this has blown me away.

That being said, there are always the few: The ones who speak without thinking. Who maybe say things they shouldn’t to a woman who is on the brink of an emotional and psychological breakdown and sees nothing wrong with going Jackie Chan on you in the hospital hallway. For all of those wondering what in the world you say to a parent of a child who’s just been diagnosed with cancer, I give you the following list.

DON’T SAY THIS

  1. At least you don’t [insert asinine and irrelevant activity/situation here]. Goo’s diagnosis hit just before New England was pelted with the biggest blizzard we’ve seen in over a decade. Upon telling someone that my baby girl had just been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, they responded with, “Well at least you aren’t out in the snow!” Um, good point. Because I would *totally* rather see my child in immeasurable pain than have to, you know, shovel. 
  2. I had that procedure/test/scan and it was awful. Umm, thanks for sharing? What would possess you to say that to a parent watching their child fight one of the biggest battles this life can throw at you? And also, my four-year-old handled it all like a freaking champ. Which I’m pretty sure makes her way tougher than you are.
  3. Rejoice! There is blessing! And other religious catch phrases. There comes a point where I’ve battled through my fear and doubt and am ready to throat-punch disease and the devil (and I’m totally there already). But the day after I share that my daughter has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing numerous tests to figure out what the heck is going on? DO NOT TELL ME TO BE HAPPY. Even Jesus wept when He learned that His dear friend Lazarus had died. AND HE’S JESUS. My tears and anger are legit.
  4. Wow! Her treatment lasts how long? It must be really bad! Pediatric oncology treatment plans vary greatly from those that are used in adults. But thank you for the comforting remark that her situation must be utterly dire. In fact, it is not. She’s already beating it. And when she’s done, I might have her beat you. Just because.
  5. You’re wrong and I have the answers for YOUR child. I will  literally have dreams about drop-kicking you if you say this to me. You swear by wheat berry puree and kale juice? Good for you! When your child has cancer, let me know how long you watch them suffer before you do whatever the heck it takes to beat it. This is MY kid. This is OUR fight. I am not stupid. And I’m fairly certain that the theory about rhabdomyosarcoma arising from years of vitamin deficiencies is HOGWASH since her exact diagnosis is EMBRYONAL RHABDOMYOSARCOMA. That means the cells form in utero. Before they’ve had years to consume chicken nuggets and Goldfish. In fact, and this is just my science education talking, but I’ve heard somewhere that cancer actually arises from errors in cellular mitosis, caused by an accumulation of mutations that go unchecked due to malfunction of certain key factors, like defects in the p53 enzyme that check for errors in the nucleotide sequence and halt cellular mitosis before allowing DNA replication to continue. But kale juice sounds good, too.
  6. Not my problem. These exact words weren’t used, but after 10 days in the hospital, with Goo in pain and not being able to eat, she was finally going for her last scan before we decided on a treatment plan and started kicking cancer to the fiery smelly curb of ultimate death. Transport arrived to take her down to the nuclear medicine department, but she needed one more push of morphine to make it through the 2 hour scan. Her nurse said, “She’s all ready. I just have to push her morphine.” He said, “She’s not ready, and I’m just telling you I’m leaving her here and taking her off the schedule.” He left the room. I followed him, and completely forgetting all self-control and decorum, flung her door open and said, “HE*L NO YOU AREN’T!” Again I humbly submit, even Jesus got so angry that he flipped tables over. I didn’t do that, but I did have to second-guess tackling him in the hallway. I settled for rallying the troops and getting a nurse, PA, and oncologist to notify his supervisor and file a nasty report. Do not mess with a mom on the edge. Unless you aren’t a big fan of walking. Because I will take you down. For a long, long time.
    Jackie Chan

    I hired him as Goo’s bodyguard. My advice is to just stop talking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DO SAY

  1. I’m praying for you. At least to me. Some people hate this, but I believe in the power of prayer. Now, a disclaimer: Don’t say it if you aren’t actually praying. Prayer is how I’m coming at this thing with a vengeance. Don’t take it lightly.
  2. This sucks. A hospital employee literally said this to me, and I started crying and almost hugged her. Why? BECAUSE CANCER SUCKS. No matter who you are, or who is involved, cancer sucks, and sometimes it feels really good to just tell it like it is. Cancer sucks, and it’s going down.
  3. Please tell me how to help. I’m getting so much better at accepting help. Because I can’t fight this fight on my own. We need troops rallying around us. With lasagna. And enchiladas. Those are both very good weapons in this fight. Please feel free to bring them at your leisure.
  4. You’re an inspiration. I don’t need to hear this to boost my ego. I met with medical professionals for 15 days straight wearing pajama pants and no make-up. My vanity has been tossed out the window. But it is a kick-some-serious-butt feeling to know you and your family are conquering this thing and shouting to the world that we’re stronger than cancer. That our faith will not be shaken. That my tiny, skinny, but feisty-as-all-get-out preschooler is going to destroy this thing.

If you’ve said any of the don’ts, don’t worry. I have said many, many stupid things in my 30 years of existence. I will probably say many more. And many things are said from people trying to be helpful and encouraging. Especially the religious catch phrases. And sometimes, they ARE encouraging. But you’ve got to be sensitive to what the family might be experiencing. The grieving process of even a diagnosis often takes a little longer than a few hours. And a big part of that process is anger. So maybe just send a lasagna and call me later. It’s safer for everyone that way.


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