Friday, August 2, 2013

Will Cancer Define Our Children's Childhood? (another sleepless hospital night journal entry)

When we began this journey of parenting young children while battling cancer, our kids were in 2nd and 3rd grade and our foster (hoping to be adopted) daughter was 1. This was in 2009.

It was the first time we were told Tim was dying.

The diagnosis was a very rare form of leukemia caused by the c
hemotherapy used on his Hodgkins Lymphoma back in 1987.

Our vow to each other was that cancer would NOT be allowed to define the lives of our children. We couldn't avoid it touching them, we couldn't side step the horrors they would endure watching their Daddy suffer, but we could refuse to let cancer take over.

The leukemia specialist at MD Anderson counseled us on our future, it was going to be very ugly and the end was coming quickly. We returned back to our home and after much prayer, relinquished our foster daughter to another foster home where her half-brothers were residing. This was devastating for us and we mourned deeply.

Then came the call 6 weeks later that a mistake had been made and the leukemia diagnosis was wrong. Yes, Tim had leukemia, but it would not progress aggressively and he would be able to live with it. We were to monitor things closely and would begin treatment once the symptoms became worse than the anticipated side effects the chemotherapy would cause.

The following two years were spent wondering with every head cold or ache "was this the leukemia waking up". And then came the persistent sore throat in the Fall of 2011. We were totally caught off guard by the throat cancer diagnosis and were once again thrown into crisis management mode.

I guess it will be years before we will really comprehend the impact of cancer on our children's lives. I pray we have been successful in our attempts to not let it define their childhood.

I fear it is defining more of their lives than we would prefer.

We are trying.

We support every extra curricular activity they are interested in. We make sure they are able to accept invitations from friends to various events. We go and we do, even when as parents, we are too tired. We have walked this road for 17 months now, more than five of which have been spent in hospitals separated from our children.

Their father is terminal.

It is foolish of us to think this cancer is not defining their childhood on many levels. So now we find ourselves discussing how to make the impact of this cancer be filled with positive, character building moments. We still refuse to lock ourselves away and dwell on the inevitable negatives of this battle. We must continue living our lives to the fullest. Here are some lessons we have seen our children learn that are defining their childhood......

1. Empathy
We were a rather active family before this cancer. We have slowly become very sedentary as Tim's energy levels and physical abilities have diminished. I am proud of our kids for being empathetic to his limitations and "just hanging out on the couch with dad". They are keenly aware that time with dad has changed, is limited and yet remains what matters most.

2. Flexibility I don't speak of this often, but the reality is, this cancer has caused a lot of changes in our lives. We had to sell our dream home that we painstakingly custom built seven years before. This was their childhood home filled with so many amazing memories. A home where the very foundation has Scripture written on it in every room. Scripture specifically prayed for each family member. A home that radiated peace and calm. Halls filled with joy and laughter. A super long driveway for racing on or shooting hoops, a large yard and connected woods for exploring and beautiful swimming pool that filled our summer days. We are learning that although some of us still miss "home" and haven't quite fully settled into the new place after a year of living here......we can be flexible in life and make home be anywhere God brings us to. And we can praise Him even during loss; finding blessings in change. They have learned to roll with the flow as we unexpectedly find ourselves back in the hospital on a moments notice. (We are actually back in the hospital as of yesterday due to a fever, low blood pressure and dehydration. We will be here for several days.)

3. Compassion With the stress of being in constant medical crisis mode at home, the kids have learned to be more compassionate with each other and with others. They have learned to extend grace even when they don't feel like it. We see them looking past situations and caring for people. This will serve them well all the days of their lives.

4. Dignity and Bravery Our children go to school whether Daddy is in the hospital or not. They walk the halls with their heads held high and a smile on their faces. They have worked diligently to maintain straight A's despite the extra responsibilities and stress they now have in our home. They have watched their Daddy bravely battle to remain by their side for as long as he can. I see Tim's bravery in both of them. They do not use cancer as an excuse to be less than who God has called them to be. They are dignified. I am so proud of the God I see in each of them (including their Daddy).

5. Responsibility and Initiative As parents, Tim and I have always had high expectations of our children. They were capable of doing their own laundry and scouring their own toilets by the age of third grade. Over these past few months I have observed both children taking more initiative in helping around the house. If they see the dishwasher is finished running, they empty and refill it without being asked. If they notice I forgot to water the flowers or take out the trash, they step in. It's little things like this that show me they have been watching their Daddy's servant heart in our home over the years and are now putting his example into practice in their own lives. These are skills that will guide them both in their careers and future marriages.

So yes, cancer is beginning to define the childhood of our precious children......but I am praying it will be defined for the better. God can and will make something beautiful from the ashes of this season we are in. He is so faithful!