The moment you become a parent your life changes.
I don’t mean the sleepless nights, walking round with baby puke on your shoulder or not being able to leave the house without it turning into a military operation. Although all of that most definitely happens.
Your whole outlook changes. You now have this tiny person you love harder than you ever imagined possible and your sole purpose is to keep them safe and happy.
To do those things you try to protect them from stuff that is, well, upsetting.
When we got Chris’ cancer diagnosis I knew that there was no way we would be able to keep Lily shielded from it.
For me it was the hardest thing to think about.
Knowing that at some point we were going to have to tell Lily what was happening and what was going to happen, that she may get worried or upset and that no matter how hard I was going to try her little life would suffer unsettlement. It made my heart hurt.
It makes my heart hurt.
We were going to shatter some of the innocence of our beautiful, lively, funny, feisty, happy little girl. It made my stomach do flips when I was least expecting it.
Sam, at 18 months, is too young to understand. In many ways it’s easier he’s so young.
I was given the Macmillan leaflet about talking to children about cancer on Christmas Eve. When we should have been sat at home in the build up to Christmas. I read it whilst waiting for Chris to have his full body MRI after being told they were sure of his diagnosis.
The information in the leaflet was helpful, although I wish I didn’t need it’s help. With ways of approaching a conversation, language to avoid and ideas of how children may react depending on their age and emotional maturity. I felt I already had an idea of how I would tell her and work through her dealing with the information. Volunteering with a children’s bereavement charity, Once Upon a Smile, had given me invaluable experience of how children cope and how I might go about trying to help her understand that whatever she feels is ok.
We decided not to tell her until after Christmas, I just couldn’t face it before hand. I needed to get my own head around it a bit first and be able to say the words out loud without filling up. I wanted to keep her safe from it all for as long as I could. For Christmas to still be magical.
I told her the following Tuesday, I was making breakfast. She was going to spend the day with our friends ’cause Chris had his first appointment at Christies.
She asked where we were going so I told her. She already knew that daddy’s ankle was very sore and that he’d been to see doctors about trying to fix it.
I was calm and factual. I told her the doctors were going to give him some very strong medicine that would make him poorly but would hopefully make him better.
That some days daddy wouldn’t be able to play but we would make sure that when he was feeling good we would have fun.
I told her that Daddy had Cancer and not to worry if she heard someone talking about it.
I told her she could talk to anyone she wanted to about it and she could ask me anything and I would tell her as much as I knew. That I would always be honest with her.
She asked me, if in the mornings would it still be ok if she goes to daddy’s side of the bed to see if it’s ok to go downstairs.
She asked me if she could talk to her daddy about it.
She asked whether it was still ok to have fun without daddy being there.
I said of course.
She asked if daddy would need his leg chopping off (there had been some discussion about this previously)
I said yes, he will need a metal leg and he will be a super hero.
After a moment of thought she said, ‘Some people say everyone with cancer dies’
I told her that wasn’t true, that people do get better but some people do die and we’re hoping that the medicine will make daddy better.
I told her of people I knew that had got better.
I hugged her tight and told her I loved her very much
I asked her if she was ok. She asked me if her coco pops were ready.
The knot in my stomach eased a little.
I can’t make any of this go away for her or for Sam but I will do anything in my power to make sure things are as normal as possible to help her cope with it and still come out of this year happy, bright and full of life.
So when she’s my age she can only remember the good bits about being 7.