Talking Cancer to a Kid
This weekend Chris and I went up to Lake Arrowhead for the Art & Wine Festival with my dad, his wife Nancy, my sister Shawna, my brother-in-law Eli, and their kids: that’s Natasha on the left and Elisha Jane on the right (she shares my middle name, so I’m including it!). Natasha just turned 3 and Elisha will be 5 in September. Right, so Elisha is old enough to wonder what was on my head…you know, where hair belongs. A simple answer like “it’s a scarf” does not work for an inquisitive and bright 4 year old. Neither did “it covers my head.” Eventually we got around to the fact that I have no hair (or, well, not much and certainly a lot less than the last time I saw her). My nieces have another aunt (not my sister, but that’s a long and complicated story) that frequently has blue hair–like royal blue hair–so I could have just gone with “I shaved it” and they would have just laughed or maybe asked one more “why?” and I could have said “I felt like it.” Which is a half-truth. But I’m not around kids that much and tend to be pretty matter-of-fact with them. I told her “I got sick and the medicine they gave me to make me better made my hair fall out. But it will grow back.” And my sister of course said, quietly, “Teresa, now the next time she’s sick she’ll think her hair is going to fall out.” Great. Okay, not really what I was going for. I worked around it (realizing that I couldn’t say that it was a sickness that only adults get because, sadly, that’s not true) and said it was only a certain kind of sickness and I’m all better and most people don’t ever get this kind of sick.
Of course, her next question was “How did you get sick?” And isn’t that the question everybody wants to know, no matter how old they are? My sister is a nurse, she answered the question with “lots of people are trying to figure that out, honey, but nobody knows.” That did the trick. For me. Unfortunately the conversation turned to Father’s day and eventually to Elisha’s questioning why Grandpa Mac was my dad and was my sister Shawna’s dad but not the dad of Debbie (the aunt who sometimes has blue hair). This proved more difficult to explain to a 4 year old than cancer. But hey, I was off the hook. I think Shawna resorted to candy.