July 5, 2012

Perspective, a father’s: what is she thinking?

Parents of children diagnosed with cancer, really loved ones of anyone facing cancer, face daily challenges in terms of how much to say, what not to say or when to say it along with the endless wondering about what their child, their loved one is ACTUALLY thinking.

Both my personal [and] clinical experience[s] have proven to me that truth in all responses, honesty in the sharing of our own thoughts [and] feelings, the willingness to acknowledge that we don’t know some things, and the ability to allow for silence go a LONG way in the provision of comfort and reassurance not only to our loved ones, but also ourselves.

I have also found imagination is almost ALWAYS worse than the reality as illustrated by Judy’s father’s account of the congregational announcement of her illness that follows:

“Even as it was hard to know what to say to our child about her illness, upcoming treatment and hospitalization, it was surprising to learn some years later what, in fact, Judy was thinking.

I learned of this from Judy’s own book. It reports some of her private thoughts on that Sunday morning just days after the report from the pathologist. She accompanied us to church, just hours before she was scheduled to enter the hospital.

 Let me explain the background. We had had several visits from our Pastor, Rev. Clarence Boomsma, and he had told us he would announce to the congregation that Judy would be going to the hospital and having surgery. He was aware of our concern that he, when Judy was present, be careful to not use the customary scary language of cancer and the dreary forecasts for her future years.

But Judy reports in her book what her worries for that church service were. It is almost humorous. I quote from her book.

I still vividly remember walking into the narthex of the Church on Sunday morning wondering whether Rev. Boomsma would ask me to stand up when made his announcement. Actually I was so scared I could feel my heart throbbing….The service started and the closer we came to the announcements the more afraid I became. I was very relieved to hear his announcement about me come and go without being asked to stand! Being admitted to the hospital was nothing compared to the fear of standing up in church.

Rev. Boomsma was very careful in his language whenever Judy was present. But not everyone was as careful and cautious as he. We thought it wise to try to shield this ten year old from hearing what adults almost always think and assume when talking of cancer. And we certainly wanted, at this stage, to shield her from hearing of the seeming hopelessness with which the doctors had been talking about her future. Here is one incident I remember so well.

A neighbor who kindly stopped in to bring us some food recalled a situation of one of her friends and said, no doubt trying to encourage us, “They didn’t give her any hope either.” Judy was lying on the couch across the room. Those were not words I wanted her to hear. I immediately jumped in to ask Judy a question and so distract her from the other conversation. In later years Judy told me she does not remember this incident, so my interruption must have done what I intended.”





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