In this section, we are posting stories from children who are interested in sharing what it is like to have a parent with cancer or another serious illness. Parents of children who would like to share their stories are encouraged to contact us.
Although we value input from each child and family, we are not able to post each submission onto our website. Even if your input is not posted on this site, please know that we are grateful to all who share their stories with us. We will carry this collective wisdom with us as we continue providing care to families in the future. We look forward to hearing from you.
When I was little, I had to read books to find hardship. I loved Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and the Little House on the Prairie Series. I liked to pretend I was a character in one of those books. I would ride my bike in circles in my driveway, pretending I was on a wagon train heading west, battling scarlet fever, leeches and big storms. I read a lot, and I spent a lot of time believing I was in some book or another. I had this obsession with being an orphan, and being sick, because it seemed so romantic to me, to die of pneumonia or diphtheria, diseases I had never heard of except in books.
Then my mother got sick with cancer, when I was much older. It was almost the kind of hardship out of a book for which I had wished. Except that usually when I pretended, it was me who got sick, or both my parents who died in a tragic train accident. This time, it was real, and worst of all, it was my mother. This was the sort of thing that only happened to someone else you barely knew at all, or only in books. I didn’t believe that my mother could be sick, let alone die. That would never happen to me. As if to prove that I was wrong, she did.
It wasn’t something out of which I could miraculously work my way out, as I did with so many other problems. When I didn’t do my homework, somehow I always seemed to get lucky and there would be a snow day or the teacher would forget to collect it in class. Often I got out of things I didn’t want to do, like cleaning, by “forgetting” about them. If it was a math problem, say, that I couldn’t do, I could almost always fix it by thinking long and hard about it.
So I tried every strategy I knew to make my mother better. First I waited to get lucky. I picked up every penny I saw on the sidewalk, and saved them in a jar. Every time the clock said “11:11” or some other set of digits that were all the same, I wished “Please make my mother better and don’t let her die.” On two birthday cakes I blew out the candles and wished that same wish. I put on good luck bracelets and ankles, tied them on and wished that wish, then waited for them to fall off so that my wish would come true. I even tried shooting stars. My mother just got sicker and sicker.
I tried forgetting about it, too, thinking it just might go away. I took too many hard classes at once, and spent all my time doing homework. I refused to accept the gifts that [a local hospital] gave out to children whose parents had cancer. I didn’t tell anyone that my mother was sick. In fact, I often lied and told people she was still working at [a local college] as a professor.... Most of the time, though, it was too hard to forget.
The night before she died, I finally realized that she was going to. Still, I approached the situation as if it were a math problem. I cried and cried and asked my father “Isn’t there something we can do?!” I was so frustrated. I believed if I just thought long and hard enough, I would come up with whatever the doctors had forgotten. I asked my father, “Have they tried everything? Absolutely everything? Are you sure?” I was ready to come up with the cure for cancer right then and there, if I could have.
In the morning, when she died, I took out my lucky pennies and counted them all. There were a lot of pennies, and on all of them I had wished the same wish. I tore off my bracelets and threw them away. Failure was staring me in the face. I had to give up, mentally. There was nothing I could have done or could do.
I would have thought that after being presented with such a huge failure of my willpower, that I would recognize when something was impossible or too hard, and not try so hard anymore. Just the opposite was true. Now, when I want something, I’m that much more frustrated when I can’t get it or do it. Because usually, if I try hard enough, its possible. For example, I’ve wanted to run a varsity race for my cross-country team for three years now, but I’ve never been good enough. This year, I was more determined than ever to do it. I trained hard all summer, and I did succeed. I know what it is to want something more than anything else and not be able to have it now. That makes me value what I can have by trying that much more, and it makes me try harder. When life allows you to be successful by trying, maybe that’s what it means to be lucky.