25 Apr The awkwardness of cancer -Part 1 language
So, cancer came to spend some time with us. There are many awkward things about cancer. The language, its appearance, its deadly nature. Cancer, that thing, that word invokes such emotion, fear and terror. Should we welcome it with open arms, talk openly and honestly and expose our children to the harsh reality that is cancer? Or should we censor the content and language of cancer and give our children half-truths to protect them?
We decided that we could not live in fear of Felix’s cancer. We needed a positive relationship with this thing – it was going to be with us for three years and the long-term effects for ever. It was up to us to dispel the sheer terror that often ran hand in hand with the word cancer for the sake of our children. We felt that the way to do this was to be honest and open with them and not to be scared of the language that we would use. This was no place for half-truths; in our experience, half-truths ultimately led to hurt and a sense of betrayal. There were going to be tough times ahead and we needed the children to feel safe and secure; we needed them to trust us.
And so we used the word cancer openly and explained the language of cancer: portacath, lumbar puncture, blood counts, chemotherapy. We didn’t give cancer and it’s language exclusivity to rule our world but we when we spoke there was honesty in our explanations and truth in our responses. This language is now part of our everyday lives. Felix will say that he has cancer although he prefers its full name, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, as it includes ‘blast’ which for a 10-year-old boy is epic. His little brother talks about chemotherapy as a medicine, which it is, and his older sister is keen to examine blood counts and discuss cell types and their current dysfunction.
There is no definitive way to cope and manage childhood cancer in the home but the language which is used can be important to the family. We want to take away the fear and trepidation when talking about cancer. We want to be able to talk freely about something which is now part of our lives and will be forever. We want people to talk to us, without feeling awkward, about the cancer that has invaded our lives.