Friday, October 4, 2013

Taking an Emotional Knee

Sometimes you just have to take a knee. In Catholicism, you take a knee to show reverence to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In yoga, resting on your knees is referred to as the hero's pose. In football, taking a knee is a strategic move. It is move that protects your position and generally works by allowing time to run out, thus ensuring a win. After a particular rough few weeks, my husband again found a way to use football as a metaphor for our challenges. It was time to take an emotional knee.

We shuttled from appointment to appointment in the haze- purposely not telling people what's going on until there was something definite to tell. A comfortable numbness gets you through. My girlfriends call it going underground. Some people thrive off of the support of others and their first wish when the game goes south is to call in the reserves. Some people hold steadfast and will run plays into the ground until there is no other option or they are pulled out of the game. We are those people. We know it's a team effort and it's not that we don't want support- we need it- we just never know how much we might need it later and don't want to use up our reserves. In the process, our own reserves get taxed.

The kids knew something was wrong. Lily reads the appointments off the calendar- purposely scratched in my own shorthand for that very reason.  Kiera hovers just out of sight and listens. Bella seems oblivious but knows more than she'll let on. Phillip is stoic, quiet, helpful. He internalizes everything. I see myself in each of them. I knew I would have to tell them. It is a tough play to try and call. You run it too early and you risk not being ready. You run it too late and it could get picked up or picked off. I know from experience, there is never a good time or a right time to tell someone you have cancer. The right time is when you have cried enough tears and cleared that clump in your throat enough to reasonably predict you can get through it. The only reasonable expectation is that- to just get through it.

It was dinner time. I reached the point that I felt like I was hiding something from them and it was no longer a healthy evasion. I think that's the tough part in parenting- we worry, we predict and try to prepare for things there are no game plans for. There is no route you can run that will bypass the cancerback in this game. It always frustrated the hell out of me in football when they run right up the middle when there is clearly no hole. Don't they see there is no hole? Phil laughs- one at the double entendre and two because he actually HAS extensive football knowledge of which he tries to share with me- He's running the play called, the hole should be there- it depends on how well the defense reads the play. You can say that again. Why doesn't he just go around? He smiles- he can't see what's over there- he's running the route he's supposed to- everyone has a job- if they all do their jobs- he will get through. Ah the metaphors abound. Immune defensive strategy, parenting strategy- emotional strategy- oh where to begin?

I simply asked the kids what they knew was going on. Kiera was first to offer that we were checking to see what was wrong with my lungs. I nodded. We have been doing lots of tests and we know what is wrong with my lungs, my breast cancer is back.  Which side? Kiera asks.  It's not in my breast this time. It's in my lungs. But you can't cut those out! She squeals- you can't live without them.  Our eyes collectively fill with the sad realization. We can't do surgery. Lily looks confused- what do you do if you can't have surgery? I remind her of all the medicines she had to take- and that medicine made her cancer stay away- we are going to see if there are medicines that will help my cancer stay where it is.  Phillip looks horrified. Every last bit of energy he has goes to keeping tears from coming to his eyes.  Bella begins her song- I don't want you to die. If you die I will have to die and that will take like a whole week of not eating.  I think the word die happened about 85 more times while she was talking- the rest of the kids emotionally trying to buffer out the sound of the word non of us wants to hear. Lily falls in to me. Kiera falls into me. The other 2 follow and like that we are a single unit- the horror being pushed away by a bubble of love. Everyone settles back into their seats. I ask Lily if she remembers being sick. She says yes. I let them know that mommy might have to get sick to get better. Everyone dies but right now we are not talking about dying-not yet- there is too much living that we need to focus on. I need them to focus on living. Lily puts her head down. Quietly she says- but I don't want a new mommy.  So I tell her that no one ever gets to know how long they get to live. If something happens to me, I want daddy to be happy and find love. Just as we love all of them, daddy deserves to be happy. And she gets angry and shakes her curls and yells No- you are daddy's one true love. That's not how it works. I could never love another mommy as much as you. It is in these moments in time that you can feel utter failure and success simultaneously. We talked about death. We talked about living. We talked being afraid. We talked about fighting. But we live with love.

The ages and genders of kids affect how they view the world around them. A 7 year old cannot process the permanence of death. Bella sat quietly, cutting and drawing. Awhile later she brings me a scroll rolled up with a bird attached.  I will send letters to you on a pigeon, forever. I will always love you.

Lily sits next to me. She is not your average 8 year old. She has seen sickness, she felt it. She knows she almost died and she knows that it is a possibility. She knows there is no coming back from death. She knows a pigeon will not be able to reach heaven. She chooses to live in the present and collect her due in hugs and kisses. The next day after school she announces a list of people who want me to get better. I envision Lily skipping down the halls, each bouncy curl attacking every passerby with the announcement that my mom has cancer.  That is how she deals- she is rallying her support system and she is calling in every last reserve. She needs them. 

Kiera is scarce. She goes to friends' houses. She feels selfish because she is worried what this means for her then feels guilty so she runs away. She is trying not to feel. Everything is magnified in the tween world- as is this. She too needs her social circle and again I understand.

Phillip quietly goes about chores. He knows I need help and he is doing what he can. He doesn't know what to say. All he can do is hug me every time he passes by.  Prior to this week I can count the volunteered hugs during his teen years on one hand- we are clearly making up for lost time. He lets the girls clear out and stands in front of me. Is it small non small cell lung cancer? He asks. Oh god, he is my child. Have you been researching it?  He nods. It's not lung cancer buddy. I know it's confusing. It is in my lungs- but it came from the breast cancer and cancer is classified by where it comes from not where is is growing. What stage is it?  I know what he read. I know what the answer is and how he's going to take it. Any cancer that spreads from where it started is automatically a stage IV. He falls into me and I wish I could zap all the worry and the fear. Instead I tell him I know how he is feeling. I was his age when my brother Bob was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I know it is scary. There are no good answers. I don't know what the future holds- I just know that I will fight for him and his sisters until there is nothing else I can do. I was only a little older than he is now when my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I told him I remembered those feelings and how horrible it was. I know what it's like to hear your parent has cancer and that's why it was so hard for me to tell him. I told him there were so many times when I was his age that I had really hard times relating to people. I lost friends because hair and clothes and petty teen things mean nothing when you watch someone you love fight for their life. Drama is something for the stage- not something to live with- and teenage girls live for drama. I didn't have a lot of friends because I avoided the drama. His dad was my best friend and always has been. And no matter what- we were all going to be fine. I also told him what my mom and I used to refer to as Mental Health Days are now called Taking an Emotional Knee. A TEK day. It happens. The rule is come to us and talk about it and don't make a habit of it- at some point you have to get back out there are fulfill your responsibilities. But for today- I understand the need to take a knee. It might just give us the position we need to win.

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Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)