It’s one of the most conflicting emotions you’ll ever feel as the parent of a child with cancer.
When you first hear the words “your child has cancer,” you’ll feel guilty.
You’ll think, somehow, you must have caused this. That it’s some sort of punishment for your mistakes. You’ll think it’s all your fault. But it’s not.
A little later down the road, you’ll hate seeing healthy children. You’ll wish their parents understood what it’s like.
And immediately you’ll feel guilty.
You’ll be horrified that you, even for one second, wished that on someone else. Because you don’t really want them to feel what you feel, to go through all that you and your child are going through. You don’t want anyone to have to deal with it, ever.
Then, eventually, you’ll get to a place where you don’t think about it like that at all. Instead, you’ll look at all the children, yours included, and you’ll just feel guilty.
Because before your child got sick, you didn’t think about cancer. It was just a pink ribbon that said, “Save the Ta-Tas!”
Because before your child got sick, you only gave change to a cancer research fundraiser outside some store just to get the pennies out of your purse.
Because before your child got sick, you didn’t realize there was such a thing as childhood cancer.
Sure everyone knows about St. Jude’s – that’s the hospital that treats kids with cancer, right? But do you know about St. Baldrick’s – the foundation that exists solely to fund childhood cancer research? Probably not. Because most likely your only exposure to a childhood cancer patient has been from the fund-raisers they do in elementary school. You know, the ones with a smiling, bald kid, who is probably around age 8 or 10.
And you’ll feel guilty. Because how could you have gone so long without realizing there’s more to it than that smile?
You’ll also end up hating the spotlight that breast cancer, or prostate cancer, or even lung cancer gets. Because everyone knows about them. Everyone donates to research for those cancers.
And you’ll feel guilty.
Because cancer is a horrible disease, no matter your age or your diagnosis.
And then, you’ll finally get to the place where you look around and you’ll see all the other patients and families that you’ve grown close to. They are still in treatment. But your child is a survivor.
You’ll see the 13-year-old girl with a smile and a bald head of her own, comforting your newly diagnosed child. And after a year knowing her and becoming close to her family, and your child idolizing her, you’ll find out she’s terminal.
And you’ll feel guilty.
Because you’ll watch your child grow up, but her first friend will be nothing but a photograph on the wall. And there’s nothing you can do.
So, you see, guilt will be interwoven with all your thoughts and ideas of childhood cancer.
It took me a while to be able to accept that I’ll probably always feel guilty. Our children have their whole lives ahead of them. And anyone of us would gladly give our life so they could continue to live theirs. Anyone of us would give our lives so that any of the other patients we’ve met could live. Unfortunately, there’s no way to make a deal with God. Years of health are not transferable.
At least 7,500 children die from cancer each day worldwide. But no one sees their pain. Instead, the childhood cancer patients are all sugar-coated with smiles whenever you see them in publications, or in advertisements, or on social media. There are very few parents that will share unfiltered pictures of what is really happening.
When you think of a cancer patient, the most common image is of an adult sitting in a hospital bed, with a hat on their bald head and hollowed eyes. You may even think of someone wasting away because they are dying. Now imagine that being an 11 year old. Or a two-week old infant.
They can’t tell you what hurts. And they won’t remember or know that this isn’t normal. Because all they’ve ever known is hospitals, chemo, and cancer. No matter what age a cancer patient is, chemotherapy is essentially the injection of toxins into their body. And any cancer survivor will tell you it hurts. But we don’t see the kids that hurt. We only see their smiles. And unfortunately, we, as humans, remember the unpleasant things before we remember the good things. You have no choice but to poison your child to save their life. We make choices for them, and hope there are no side effects. But cancer isn’t a bald head with a bow and a smile.
Cancer is holding your child and crying with them because the physical pain they feel is on par with the mental anguish you feel.
Cancer is keeping blue vomit bags in your car, just in case.
Cancer is skipping birthday parties and school events, because their immune system can’t handle even the possibility of a cold.
Cancer is knowing all the hospital nurses, and knowing that they love your child as much as you do. And knowing you can count on them to do the little things that make your child feel normal – like painting their nails together.
Cancer is bloody mouth sores, and washing sheets in the middle of the night because they can’t control themselves anymore.
Cancer is shaving your head so your daughter doesn’t feel alone, or even growing your hair out so she can play with it.
Cancer is holding your son down so that they can stick him trying to find a good vein.
Perhaps if people saw more of the ugly side of cancer, they would understand that it’s not unreasonable to ask for more than 4% funding for research. And asking for more is the one thing you won’t feel guilty about.
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