Relationships are what life is all about. I have the best one with my daughter who is now a young adult. I have to admit that our journey through cancer has had a very large part in the relationship we now share. Often, these are the times in our life that we can either improve the relationship with our children, or have them move to a place of fear and mistrust. I am so grateful that I took the risks necessary to involve her in my journey even though it almost tore my heart out to do so. I did not turn her into a caregiver, or depend on her for emotional support which would have been very harmful to her, but rather I was always honest and upfront so that she could be assured that what was going on really was the truth. It is hard often for parents to be honest with their children, but in some ways that is because it is easier if we don't have to deal with their emotional fallout. It can be a bit of a cop out b/c it allows us the distance we may feel is better....in the long run this is not better for either party.
When I was first diagnosed, my daughter was only 12 years old and in grade 6. It was only the two of us, as most of my family lived thousands of miles away. We had a good relationship to begin with, but this was very traumatic. I don't even remember telling her initially about the diagnoses. According to her, I did it very calmly and quietly, making sure that she listened to everything and didn't just hear the word 'cancer' and go off to a place of fear and dread. I told her that I had cancer, but that we would get through this together whatever that meant.....and that she would always know what was up. I even went as far as allowing her to talk to the doctor herself and ask any questions which she might have. Never underestimate children, they think alot and often their imagination can take them to far worse places than the truth will.
As time went on, we seemed to settle into the journey of day to day life with cancer. Then one day while she was lying in bed with me she just asked the question "what will happen if you die". Oh my goodness, you can imagine how that hit me between the eyes. Not that I hadn't thought about it, but for her to actually articulate her own fear of it. Of course, my initial reaction was to say "don't worry everything will be fine" but I didn't because I knew that I couldn't guarantee that. So instead I told her "no matter what happens you will be fine....it won't be the best thing if I die, and neither of us want that, but if that is what happens you will be o.k., that I promise". She started to cry and than I said, "I want you to think of all the people who you know that love you so much and who love you too". She began naming different people, family member, friends, even some of my fellow teachers etc. We talked about each person and how we had met them, how long we had known them. After a very long time of talking, she looked at me and said "you know you are right, I don't want you to die, but I won't be alone, there are lots of people who love me." What a revelation for such a young child. Her real fear, apart from being separated from me, was of being left alone. I couldn't promise that I wouldn't die, but I could promise that she would be looked after and not be left alone. For the time being that really helped to allay her fears and we were able to again continue on our way.
Two days ago, I had a girls day with my daughter, who is now 22. We have an amazing relationship, one of friendship, family, and just of two women in the world. We laugh, we cry, and we even disagree....no kidding! I cannot regret where we have had to go in order for us to have ended up here today. I wouldn't change that relationship, and so I guess I can't regret the illness that brought such a strong bond between us. I don't like it, wouldn't want to re do it, but it has allowed us to have a mother/daughter relationship that most people never achieve. All it took was my being aware that good relationships begin with honesty, respect, and trust no matter what age and no matter what the journey...I thank God that I had the grace 9 years ago to allow her to come on this journey with me rather than trying to protect her and leaving her behind.
She too is on the bus with us, but in a very quiet way. She has come to realize that when it is time to worry I will let her know, but until then I expect her to get on with her own life and her own journey. The best part is that she is doing exactly that........she is listening to me her mother!!!!!!!! and her friend.