Cancer in the Family: Telling the Kids
by Jen Green
As I write this, my husband has just arrived home from another road trip. He’s exhausted and heading for bed. His dad had his third brain surgery in 8 months. My husband has been with his mom and dad for each surgery, making the four hour drive to their home, staying two nights, then coming back home to his wife and kids. It’s a hassle–he has to miss work, we have to make arrangements for the kids because I work in the afternoons, and we miss him here at home. But you know what? Now that I think of it, I don’t believe any of us have ever complained. It’s how it is. It’s the right thing. After all, this is his dad.
Our family’s cancer diagnosis came at the end of last year. It’s been a difficult road, but it’s not been all bad. I’m sure every family reacts differently, but by the grace of God, our family has pulled together. After the initial diagnosis and that horrible first phone call, Scott and I had to make a quick decision: how to tell the children.
My kids are 9 and 7. Like most kids, they love their grandpa. Also like most kids that age, they’ve had very little exposure to disease, tragedy, and death. Sure a couple of our beloved pets have moved on to the happy hunting ground in the sky, but on the whole, they’ve never had a reason for extreme sadness or grief. They live in a happy, secure world–and I don’t regret that one bit. So, we wanted to make sure we handled telling them about their grandpa the right way.
But is there a right way? I’ve found with kids, the best thing to do is to be honest but gracious. So, Scott sat them down and told them that “Green-Green” was very sick. He explained about cancer, tumors, and what the doctors believe about this particular type of tumor. Then, he reminded me why I love him so much when he said, “The good news is that our God is bigger and stronger than any tumor. So, we are going to pray for a miracle.” I stood in the doorway watching the conversation unfold–and I knew what was coming next. I can’t remember which child said it out loud, but it doesn’t matter because they were both thinking the same thing, “What if God doesn’t do a miracle?” My thoughts exactly. I resisted the urge to jump in and waited to hear what Scott would say. “Well, we trust God, right? It’s our job to pray and it’s His job to carry out His plan.”
The good thing about being hours away from Scott’s parents is the kids are somewhat removed from the situation–but it’s also a bad thing. Every time we drive there, we have to prepare them for the changes they will see in Green-Green. He is always worried they will be afraid of him–but they never have been. They love him pretty much unconditionally.
I wonder if it was a daily part of their lives (other than praying for Green-Green every day in Bible class and during meal and bedtime prayers) if they would be more able to grasp the severity of the situation. Not to mention, they would see much more of him. This ordeal has changed their grandpa in many ways, including his physical appearance and his personality. Maybe if they were privy to the gradual change it would not be as striking as only seeing him once a month. I don’t know. Because we live far away, most of our visits are planned–and they can tell us when it’s a “good” time so they can plan and psyche themselves up.
Maybe I’m just rationalizing it, I don’t know. I know our distance has provided me a buffer–and sometimes I’m grateful for that . . .until I feel guilty for being grateful. My mother-in-law certainly doesn’t have that luxury, nor does my sister in law. I just keep coming back to one plea: grace. I’ve never prayed for grace so much as I have in the last 8 months.