What used to go over Ian’s head at four-years-old is resonating with him at seven. We worked very hard at protecting him from the negative talk that surrounds Cancer during his treatments (Heart of a Hero), and we’ve still never said Cancer and death in the same sentence all these years later. We call it “C” when there is something negative associated with it. Our dog has been ill and the vet said she may have Cancer, so later we said, “If it is C, we may have to put her down.” If a family member dies of C, Ian is not going to make the connection. . . . But this kind of protection of Ian is coming to an end. Sadly, it is Ian that is forcing us into a new phase.
I think it started with his last visit to his oncologist. The doctor was so overwhelmed with Ian’s miraculous health, that he said something along the lines of how amazing it is that Ian “survived or overcame Cancer.” Since then, Ian has asked people, “Did you know I had Cancer?” or “Can you believe I survived Cancer?” I’m not sure how much he understands about his questions, but he knows he’s getting some intense responses that he enjoys. Adults will usually have appropriate responses. If they know, they smile and say “Yes, I did. That’s great that you survived that, Ian.” If they don’t know, they say, “Really?” and then ask me about it later.
But children are having a different response. They haven’t been protected from the devastation that Cancer can lead to, so their responses are unguarded and a bit more alarming for me. While Ian’s friend was over playing Wii, Ian asked him, “Did you know I survived Cancer?” His friend responded with, “Yeah, dude. That’s great, because my grandpa and aunt died from Cancer.” It came out of his mouth before I could stop him. I wanted to tell him to go home. Of course I didn’t. He didn’t know that we don’t put those words together in one sentence. I felt like that little boy had punctured Ian’s plastic bubble. I don’t want Ian to be disillusioned; I just wanted him to be older and better suited to deal with it, I guess.
Ian told me this morning that a boy in his class picked on him yesterday because of his Cancer. I asked him to explain. It started with Ian asking his teacher if she knew he had Cancer. She said she did know that. Then two girls asked him about it, and he told them he had a tumor in his head. One of the little girls covered her mouth. He said, “She acted like she was scared, Mommy.” I had to stifle a sob. Then a boy said, “You had Cancer? You’re dumb.” Ian told me using a mocking voice. As far as a dis goes, that was rather lame, but in Ian’s world, it hurt and confused him. The questions started forming in my mind. What do I do? Do I contact his teacher? What would possess a boy to tease Ian about that?
The one question I verbalized was directed at Ian: “What did you do about that, bud?”
Ian just looked at me and responded, “I didn’t punch him, even though I wanted to. I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to work.”
“That’s good, buddy. Yeah. Don’t ever punch someone for that.” I chuckled. “You did the right thing by ignoring him.”
Today, Ian taught me a lesson. Cancer is his reality, but it’s in his past now. Instead of standing in front of him, I will stand next to Ian, while he decides how he will fight the aftermath battles. Ian was strong enough to beat Cancer; he can beat this battle as well. I can’t keep him in a plastic bubble forever, nor do I want to.