Monday, April 6, 2009
An impossible answer
For whatever reason, sometimes children ask questions that not only take us by surprise, but are impossible to answer. Today I was asked one of those questions. Since the very first day we learned of Chunks-a-lot's cancer, I have always been careful in the amount of information I share with Talks-a-lot. I never wanted to overwhelm him with the facts, so we took it step by step, sometimes drawing pictures, sometimes giving child-like examples, sometimes just avoiding major details as they came about. As time passed, his questions ceased and he seems to be content with the amount of medical knowledge he has acquired throughout this journey. But today was different.
For some reason, Talks was sitting in the back seat of the car staring curiously at Chunks. I could see his furrowed brow deep in thought from my rearview mirror as he studied her tiny little face. Finally, he began asking questions. They were all very similar to questions he's asked in the past, but they were much more mature and he seemed very determined to stay away from the surface answers and dig deeper to the truth within. What is cancer? How did her brain tumor form? What do they do at St. Jude's that is so important? Why does the chemotherapy make her hurt so badly when it's supposed to be doing something good? I felt almost attacked by his curiosity and it was so surprising to hear him throwing out medical terms like, "shunt" and "hydrocephalus". He even asked me what type of tumor Chunks-a-lot had, which he has never inquired about before. I tried to stick to just the facts and not wander off into some sort of emotional path that might make him scared, but he just kept pressing me. Finally, just as we had pulled into the driveway at home, he jumped out of the car in what seemed like frustration and said, "But I just don't understand it....what would happen if the drugs suddenly stopped working? What would her head do if the tumor kept growing? How would her brain still fit if the tumor took up too much space? Would she still be able to think with something that big inside of her head? What happens to the children at St. Jude's who get chemotherapy and it doesn't work?". He literally asked all of these questions within 30 seconds and I could feel the blood draining from my face. I have avoided this for so long now that I wasn't even sure how to respond. My efforts to brush off his deepest fears were squashed as he refused to let me off the hook. "Well, buddy, they just go home to be with Jesus.", I stated as calmly as possible. The moment I spoke these words, I regretted them. He froze and time almost seemed to stand still. Suddenly, he seemed so grown up to me. It almost seemed unfair for him to even have to ask these questions at the tender age of almost six years old. He slung his backpack up on his shoulder and sternly said, "Well, I do not want my little sister to die.". Words escaped me. I could sit here and type a thousand different responses to that statement right now, but in the moment, I couldn't even mutter a syllable. As we made our way into the house he outright declared that when he grew up, he would become a doctor at St. Jude's; for, as he put it, "No child should have to die from cancer.".
Everything I have gained in regards to the art and tact of explaining things to children left me in the six or seven minutes that this conversation took place. I have been struggling so desperately, lately, with the words that her doctor spoke to us on our very first day at St. Jude's, "I do not expect her to survive this cancer.". As a mother, I cannot resolve this within myself. I cannot come to terms with it, I cannot accept it and even thinking about it is so painful that it takes my literal breath away. But as hard as all of these emotions might be, the look on my little boy's face as he took in that same possible reality, was ten times harder. I somehow regret telling him the truth, but I also know that it was an impossible question with an impossible answer that was only lurking beneath the surface. And as he prayed tonight for healing for his little sister, his words seemed much more sincere, they seemed to have the same air of desperation as my own constant pleading. But I believe that truth gives you power and now we both share this fight, this mission, this battle to seek out a miracle for a precious little girl. He assured me that it wasn't her fault, the cancer was something bad that she does not deserve and I couldn't agree more.
It's funny, you go through life trying to shield your children from the harsh reality of life, but in the end they always end up experiencing it anyways. Maybe I was wrong for telling him the truth and maybe it will only create a sense of fear and urgency within him, but when is a lie that brings a smile better than a truth that brings a tear? His attitude towards his little sister was so different this evening. Everytime she had a clumsy fall or bumped into something, he rushed to her side to make sure she was okay. As truly amazed and inspired as I am to see the fight and resilience in my precious little girl as she fights through this horrible cancer, it's only that much more incredible to see the kindness and compassion this situation has fostered in my son. I have a feeling he will be something great one day. For to stand back and watch as he fights with the strength and courage of someone far beyond his years, is simply amazing. I can clearly see now how this entire situation is shaping him and it's so obvious to me that God will use him in a great way. The first step towards truth is always the hardest, but at some point in life, it's just necessary. Maybe he's not old enough to share this burden with us, but it was an impossible question with only one impossible answer.