Telling Older Children
I feel it is a lot harder to tell older children that you have cancer. Let me explain. My son Ashleigh is 24. He was 22 when we found out I have terminal cancer. It has always been “him and me” against the world. We are extremely close. He is my baby and always will be. We tease each other relentlessly; humor is our thing.
The most emotional thing I have ever done
Having to tell him that I have bladder cancer was the most emotional thing I have ever done. I had been a single parent for a long time. I had protected him from all the horrible things in the world, and now I was about to shatter his world. Just like how minutes ago, our world was shattered, too!
I had never lied to Ashleigh, and I certainly didn’t intend to start now. He knew I had a urology appointment and that this was to find out if the cancer cells were small cell or long cell. We had all spent the best part of nearly 4 weeks praying for it to be Long cell. Small cell bladder cancer is a rare, fast-growing and aggressive cancer; the outlook for this type wasn’t good.
I didn’t want to break his heart
Ashleigh was training to be a HGV Driver. He has wanted to drive trucks since he was 3 and was now finally getting to achieve this. I had promised to call him the minute I had come out of the appointment. I really didn’t want to. I didn’t want to break his heart. I think for older children it’s harder as they KNOW what cancer is. They already have a preconceived idea about cancer and how it will affect their world.
We sat in the car, and I dialed his number. I was hoping he wouldn’t answer, but he did. There was no easy way to say it is terminal, so I blurted those awful words out… “It’s small cell”. It went quiet for a second or two, my heart was in my mouth, and I was trying so hard to stay strong and in control. He said something back, I remember it was a joke about not growing old or being able to have that last piece of chocolate cake…
The PET scan results
The next step was the PET Scan results; luckily for us, we had no idea what the PET Scan was, for otherwise, I think there would have been a lot of sleepless nights. The PET scan was to see just how much the bladder tumor had spread. The results were awful; it had gone to my lymph nodes, my liver, my hip and arm bones. As I have said before, the minute Dr. S said the word “bones,” I knew my death warrant had been signed.
How was I going to tell my son?
My husband Tim and I got into the car and sat there, in total shock, tears rolling down our faces. I looked at him and said, “How are we going to tell Ashleigh?” Tim replied, “We just have to tell him”. Once again, I was going to shatter his world. Once again, I was going to break his heart. I don’t even remember what I told him now; I know it was one of the most difficult things I had done. I was meant to be protecting him, keeping him safe. What was going to happen when I wouldn’t be here?
He came over that night, we cried, it’s all a blur. We arranged to go out, just me and Ashleigh. Momma and Son day. This would give us time to chat. I think we had the idea we go out to eat and just chill. I would answer any questions he had.
The elephant in the room
I remember getting into his car, and we drove the first few miles in silence. My diagnosis was the elephant in the room; I knew one of us had to say something. I think I asked if he was okay, and then went on to waffle like a mad woman, telling him that it would all be okay and that I would always love him. He pulled into a lay-by and we both cried.
I remember hugging him, kissing his head, telling him how much I loved him. I think the last time we were emotional was when he moved out into his own flat, and he told me that he wouldn’t be moving out if it wasn’t for the fact that I had met and married Tim.
We cried and cried
I know my heart ached; we cried and cried. And then we cried more. That was the only time he cried in front of me. Since then, he has cried in front of others but won’t cry in front of me. I think I said everything that needed to be said that day. I hope I did.
Ashleigh has a Facebook page about anxiety. In February this year, he wrote a post. It was the first time he has really opened up about his feelings. I hadn’t realized that it affected his every waking moment, too. I feel bad for writing that; I honestly thought he was coping really well.
We both felt robbed
I then started to think about things. I have been his mother, his teacher, his idol (yes, yes you did idolize me once, Ash) It had always been ME! We have our problems, but we have always had each others’ backs. It had always been assumed that I would live to a ripe old age, and yet here I was, now telling him that I most likely wouldn’t be at his wedding; I most likely wouldn’t meet any grandchildren. He knows that I can’t wait to be a Nana. All these huge things that we had taken for granted now seemed to be unattainable. We both felt robbed!
I think that with older children, you have to be honest with them. Try and involve them with appointments and treatments, even if its just driving you there. I would let Ashleigh drive me, and often, we would stop and get a milkshake or go out for lunch afterward. That way we had time to discuss what was said or what had happened at any given appointment.
Give them time and space
I also think it’s important to give them time and space to be able to process everything that is going on. Be there to answer any questions they may have and ask them if there is anything THEY would like to know. Perhaps write it down and ask the doctor the next time you see them. Their brains will be working overtime, so don’t pressure them about how they feel, especially if they are boys, as boys don’t want to open up most of the time.
Make time for each other
Make time for you and them. I feel that that is so important. Even if it is to watch a film together or to grab a coffee and try not to make everything about cancer. Ask them about how their life is going and how they are coping. If the answers are short, one word answers, you will then realize that they don’t want to open up about it. Try putting yourself in their shoes. How do you think it would feel to be told your parent has bladder cancer? You know how your child “works,” so go slowly and softly if that’s the way you will get through to them.
We don’t take any time for granted
It has been two years and four months since my terminal diagnosis. We still have the worry, Ashleigh still panics when I’m having a bad day; he still tries to get me to “rest”. All we know is that we have this time, right here and right now. We don’t take any days for granted.
I am proud of how he has coped, and not coped at times. We still use humor, we still laugh at the silly things and we have got this far…