Thursday, May 22, 2008

When A Word Isn't Just A Word And A Cupcake Isn't Just A Cupcake

How do you tell your precious child the following four words: Sweetie, you have cancer?

No matter what, the answer that anyone comes up with will hover somewhere around 'not easy.'

All this Pablo talk with family, friends and doctor has one common denominator: it's all been with adults. And it's all been about Pablo. Now we have to talk to Pablo. He is a little boy, more concerned with how many frozen yogurt tubes he can chow down in a day than Chemo rounds and CAT scans.

Before the surgery to install the port in his chest, we gave Pablo the basics: the bump on your tummy isn't good for you, and the doctors are going to give you medicine to make it better. We intentionally didn't use the word 'cancer.' That was harrowing, but relatively oblique compared to the cancer talk we're about to have.

You might be wondering how Pablo will even know what 'cancer' means. With many kids, you'd be creating the child's experience and reality around the word 'cancer' with this conversation.

With Pablo, it's different. Here's why: my older brother Scott had cancer and passed away in September 2004. We talk about Uncle Scott all the time. Pablo was very young at that time, but he knows that Uncle Scott had cancer, and died. So the word already has a massive charge for him. The words 'cancer' and 'death' are linked in his head. He asks all the time about Uncle Scott's death and dying.

You might be wondering why we have to tell Pablo at all, or at least why this soon. Here's why: we're going to Pablo's school tomorrow to celebrate his birthday. We got a call today from Brenda, one of the teachers at school. She said that some of the children have been using the 'C' word at school when talking about Pablo. Makes perfect sense. It's one of those obvious things that eluded us in the intensity of this week. We just don't want him to hear it for the first time from one of his friends at school and be confused about what's up.

His actual bday isn't til June 21; since it's in the summer, we are celebrating it tomorrow. This has been in the books for months, and it's a big deal. Bigger, now that Pablo is well enough to go and do it. The tradition at Walther is to have the birthday child bring in their parents and their fave book, and the three of them read the book to the class. The book is then inscribed by the child, and popped into the school bookshelf for future enjoyment by Walther students. It's a sweet trad, and we're excited as hell to rock it tomorrow. This experience will keep us going when the going gets tough later in this race.

Oh, did I mention we're baking chocolate cupcakes in the morning?

Preparation for the talk

We are getting guidance from the amazing Child Life specialist at CHLA. We'll also get direction from our friend Susan Baxter, a mom in Grady's class, and a professor of childhood education, specializing in communication with children.

No matter who we talk to, no matter what guidance they give us, talking to Pablo tomorrow morning will be a touchstone in all our lives.

We will do this as a family: Mommy, Papa and Grady. We have done all of this as a family, and will continue to do so. Cancer is a family disease, and we will experience it as a family. Only deviation from this plan will be when Grady goes on the eighth grade graduation trip to Costa Rica in early June.

In a very real way, if you are reading this, you are part of our family. So so many friends have dropped everything to help us. We're only five days into this, and the response from our circle of friends has been overwhelming in a very, very good way.


Mashley Love said...

good luck tomorrow. we'll be sending you sunshine and aloha.

Treed said...


Have you asked Pablo what he thinks is going on with all this? Maybe he knows more than you think. Any way, I know you will be able to explain this to him in a kind and gentle way. Like the person you are.

Caro said...

Can't wait to see Pablo and celebrate his birthday. Scarlett misses him so much. We love you guys and think you are doing such an amazing job with what you are facing. Brave, strong and funny. You all are an inspiration to us all.
Caroline, Michael and Scarlett