The Big C

A journey through Stage Four Cancer

The Blame Game

on December 11, 2010

I’d been “out of it” for days, may-be even a few weeks.  I don’t know.  Slowly I was coming back to consciousness, when I was told that I had cancer.  I don’t even remember who it was that told me, only that the voice was gentle and sure.  There was no mistake.

“What cancer?” I croaked because I hadn’t spoken in so long.  What I meant was  “Where is the cancer?”  I had a suspicion of where, but I didn’t have a knowledge of anything since I had been admitted to the hospital in Connecticut.  I was in my first hospital in Rhode Island now.

“Stage Four.”

“Then I am dead.”  I wasn’t so out of it that I didn’t know that stage four was the worst, and last stage of cancer.

“No, no.” the Doctor said.  “There is no reason to believe that we can’t treat this cancer as effectively as an earlier stage cancer.”

God bless him!

Laying in my hospital bed, I didn’t wonder “Why do I have cancer?  Why me?”  That would come later.  What I wondered was  “What have I done wrong in life that I got cancer as a result?”

  • What food did I eat, that causes cancer?
  • What was in my air that caused cancer?
  • Was it air fresheners?  The anti-static spray?  Perfume?
  • Was it all our bbq’s?
  • Because I hate eating oranges?

The thing is,  I wasn’t the only one playing the blame game when I was diagnosed with cancer.  I haven’t lived with my parents since I was eighteen.  I am 40 – mmmmbphhh now.  I haven’t lived with them in over 30 years.  And yet, my mother kept delving into my babyhood and my childhood wondering if she had done something that could have led to my cancer.

  • She hadn’t nursed me long enough.  (In fairness, my doctor told her to stop, can you imagine??)
  • Was the formula to blame?
  • Was there a food they should have fed me?  One they shouldn’t have fed me?

The food thing is really laughable because my mother was a food Nazi.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, with perservatives ever came into our home.  I knew about BHT, BHA, Red dye number 5 before I was even in middle school!  She wouldn’t let us have white sugar, we could only use honey, and even that didn’t flow freely.  We always had whole grain food, only natural peanut butter, plenty of milk and a glass of orange juice a day.  My father always had a huge, I mean really HUGE garden.  We never had Kool Aide or sodas,  snack cakes, or even snacks at all, rarely had desserts except for birthdays.  I totally hated it, but that’s what I mean that my mom’s concern is laughable.  I could not have been fed better as a child!

The saddest players of the Blame Game though were my children.  The very youngest ones were sure that my cancer was their fault.

  • They should have been more obedient.
  • They shouldn’t have stressed me out with their fighting.
  • They should have kept their bedroom cleaner.
  • They should have done their homework sooner, better or faster.
  • They shouldn’t have been fresh to me.
  • They should have spent more time with me.
  • They should have given me more time to myself.
  • They should have been good.

Even the oldest ones wondered if they hadn’t disagreed with me as often, if they hadn’t been so rude, if they hadn’t ……………, then I wouldn’t have been stressed and I could have fought off the cancer.

Although we do know somethings like asbestos and cigarette smoking, can cause cancer, they don’t always.  People can smoke their whole life, and never get cancer.  A health conscious marathon runner does get cancer though.  Sometimes, there just doesn’t seem to be a reason why someone gets cancer.

I tell you this because this is what you might experience when your family learns about your cancer.  Especially with younger children, they put all the blame on themselves.  It sounds ridiculous, but it is true.  This often happens when parents divorce, children blame themselves for the break up.

It’s important to explain to them that the cancer is no one’s fault.  Even if you are sure the cancer is a result of bad life choices, keep it to yourself.  The blame game at this time will only be destructive.

That Mommy (or Daddy) didn’t get cancer because of anything the child has done, that their actions didn’t lead to stress that allowed the cancer to grow.  That they are blameless.

If they ask if Mommy is going to die, don’t lie to them. Don’t give them a booming “Oh no! Never! Mommy is going to be fine.” They already know better, your false reassurance makes you un-trustable, and they will weigh every word you say from then on, making their own conclusions, often, wrong ones.

You don’t need to say that Mommy only has six months either.

What you need to do is be honest, admit that Mommy (or Daddy) is very sick.  Tell them that it might take some time for Mommy to get better, and that she might need some therapies like chemotherapy or radiation.  You don’t need to explain chemo or radiation at this time. Cross that bridge when you come to it.

Even though Mommy is sick, she still loves you so much! And she’ll like it when you hold her hand, or draw a picture for her room.

If you are a believer, make sure the children know that God didn’t give mommy cancer.  That God isn’t mad at mommy, the family or the children for doing something wrong.  That God loves mommy and the family, and that God is sad that mommy has cancer too!

My children did many Catholic devotions for me, asking God to help me.  They drew closer to God, and felt that they were helping by praying.  Truth be told, I really believe that it is the many prayers that I received, and the sincerity of belief of my children that kept me from dying in the hospital.



3 responses to “The Blame Game

  1. Billy Atwell says:

    Do you think it’s important that kids understand that while God allows bad things to happen, it’s only because we can grow into stronger, more resilient people that he allows us to suffer?

    I don’t know if there is an age break for that kind of information, but it’s an important point. Do you think kids are able to understand and appreciate that spiritual reality?

    I’m not so sure. It’s almost too much for them to grasp, especially at the youngest ages.

    • The Big C says:

      My own opinion is just to keep it simple: mommy didn’t get cancer because God is mad at her or the family. That God loves mommy and the family. That through it all, God is with us.

      Thoughts and discussions on redemptive suffering can be explored with the cancer patient. With children, I would really hold off until the terror of the diagnosis has worn off.

      We talked about it while I was home and going to chemo every two weeks. They could see that I was getting tired, nauseous and starting to lose my hair. That’s when I said to them “Let’s offer this up. Someone could really use this in purgatory.” I wasn’t covered in tubes and monitors at this time, I looked more like the usual mom.

      Since then, while I’m in remission, we talk more about redemptive suffering, and how valuable it can be. Including offering up getting out of bed in the morning, when I’d much rather stay in bed!!!! 🙂

  2. Monex says:

    But I have decided that I am ok with that…I dont think people look at me and say oh you poor dear you have cancer. Odd I know but I am ok with that too…Because you see because of cancer I am a better mom sister daughter wife and friend. I realize how important it is to be there for the ones you love and to make sure that they know how much they mean to you…I also believe that cancer has made me stronger.

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