Cancer in the Family: The First Visit
by Jen Green
First came the diagnosis, then came telling the kids. Very soon after the initial shock had worn off, it was time for our family to visit Scott’s dad for the first time since his glioblastoma (cancerous brain tumor) diagnosis and subsequent brain surgery.
As I told you last time, we had our first conversation with the children, telling them about Grampy Green’s cancer. We knew, though, that we’d have to talk to them again, especially because his appearance had changed considerably from the last time they saw him. It’s a four hour drive to the Green’s home. Once we got within an hour of our destination, we reminded our kids about Grampy Green’s illness, that he had to have surgery and how he would look different. They, of course, asked a lot of questions including, “Will his hair grow back,” “Did they take out all of his brain,” “Could I live if the doctor’s took out my brain,” and other such 9 and 7 year old questions. We asked them to please not stare, not ask lots of nosey questions, and remember that this is the same Grampy Green we know and love.
When we arrived, my son Ben jumped out of the car, hugged Grampy Green and immediately commented, “Hey! Your hair is short like mine now!” and happily ran off to find the dog. We all laughed and I secretly thanked the Lord for my son, the walking ice-breaker.
I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter, one of my co-workers commented that one great reasons to have children is so you’ll always have something to talk to your in-laws about. Maybe it’s a bit cynical, but it is true. It’s nice to have that shared bond as a kind of “neutral” ground to begin a conversation. On this first visit “post cancer diagnosis” we chatted about kids, the drive, the weather–but the elephant was still in the room. No one knew who should be the first to bring it up, no one knew exactly what to say.
I had a miscarriage with my first pregnancy. It was late term and completely unexpected, as most miscarriages are. One of the most poignant repercussions from that experience was how friends interacted with me after it happened. Some were great, saying all the right things. Others didn’t know what to say, so they just said, “I’m sorry” and gave me a hug. Others, sadly, just stayed away completely. After that experience, I promised myself I would never just ignore someone’s pain, even if I didn’t know how to address it.
But, I’ll admit, my father-in-law is a tough one. In all the years I’ve known him, he has been so strong, so solid. He comes from that generation of men that believes excessive emotion is a sign of weakness. It was very, very difficult to broach his diagnosis with him on that first visit.
We walked from the car into the house, chatting about “niceties” then came to the kitchen. There, in the middle of the counter was the card I’d sent a few days earlier. In it, I’d told my father in law how much we love him and how we’re praying for God’s healing. He picked it up, showed it to me and said thank you. My mother in law did, too. After that, we were able to easily launch into the “cancer” discussion. I’m so thankful I had sent that card–especially since I had agonized over what to say in it to the point that I almost didn’t send it! But, I knew God was telling me to reach out–and He used it in a special way.
That discussion was the first of many and, unfortunately, is not the most difficult one we’ve had over the last nine months. But it was a good start.