Sharing the News with the Kids

Saturday December 11, 2010.

Today, Daniel came home from college. I was both looking forward to having him home and dreading it.

There was such poignancy about the whole situation when we picked him up from the airport — how bubbly-happy he was talking about the Mediterranean and Northern African cruise trip that was supposed to start in a few days. (Of course, we had already canceled the whole thing a day or two earlier.) That night we went out for dinner to celebrate Jon’s acceptance to his first choice school and his ROTC scholarship. We were all having a wonderful time, both boys talking about what they were going to do during the cruise. All throughout dinner I was painfully aware of what would follow once we came home that evening. That dinner was going to be the last carefree family celebration for some time to come. I experienced it as an intensely bittersweet two hours with an aching sense of apprehension.

I felt like a grinch who is about to come and destroy the sand castle little kids are building on the beach. I felt vulnerable: was there anything ever in life that was rock solid? In a few hours, I will open my mouth and the reality of carefree routines of my kids’ lives will be irrevocably altered, at least for quite some time. I did not want this power. I did not ask for it. If there is a cosmic overseer, is it how this being would feel, looking beyond the boundary of past, present, and future, and knowing what is in store of all of us, the cosmic ignoramuses who are like little bugs on a petri dish? Would this being feel empathy? Sympathy? Mild boredom, perhaps? After all, as much as it was a major crisis for us, in the big picture of life, this is so mundane and trite — a genuine cliché if there ever was one. And, oh, how bourgeoisie it is for me to indulge in this! Simply because I can articulate it better, using quasi-psychological terms and seemingly more sophisticated vocabularies does not make it any more special than what ails countless souls somewhere halfway around the globe where they are facing a real danger of imminent death on a daily basis.

My cancer certainly made me a cheap philosopher, specializing in making much ado about nothing. Now that I think of it, I don’t know how all the writers and artists ever manage to produce their masterpieces without the wonderfully inspiring catalyst that is cancer. :) Maybe they all had it, and did not know about it. :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

After we came back from dinner last night, I broke the news to the kids. It started with the news that we are not going on a cruise trip, and the reason is because I would be having a major surgery.

I shared a straightforward facts. The likelihood that it will be a stage 4 ovarian cancer. The five year survival rate is below 20%. I laid out all the raw information. I believe in completely honest and open communication with kids. There is nothing to be gained by whitewashing what we have to deal with. If I start distorting the reality just so that it’s easier to swallow at the moment, they won’t believe me in the future when I go through this long journey — as it will be a marathon not a sprint. I need to establish the baseline for honest and truthful communication.

Beside, these are very intelligent kids. They can easily do their own research. When they do, they will see these grim numbers. I need to proactively debrief them, and explain to them why I believe these stats do not apply to me. I have a very rational, logical and fact based ground for optimism, and they needed to hear that from me. I laid out my case on why I will be an extreme outlier of the current statistical curve.

(1) My age: the compiled statistics has a median age of 65 at the time of diagnosis

(2) My baseline health: other than cancer, I am perfectly healthy. Not only I am better equipped to handle this disease, I am likely to handle chemotherapy well.

(3) My socioeconomic advantages: it’s a well known fact that those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged fair poorly. Hence average stats that include these cases underpredict my odds.

(4) Access to the cutting edge medical care: the population the stats uses as a baseline includes women in square states with no easy access to top most medical experts. I already learned that the the skill and expertise of the gynecologic oncologist who performs the surgery doubles the odds of good prognosis for women with my condition.

(5) My attitudes, emotional resilience and discipline: More and more research confirms that the patient’s attitudes and emotional and intellectual resources are a huge variable. I have no shortage of what it takes to emerge whole and intact.

(6) By nature, the survival statistics are complied with women who have been diagnosed long time ago (over 10 years). Meanwhile, medical science is evolving rapidly. Already, promising treatment breakthroughs have been made and more are on the horizon. As such, the stats compiled for women in the past significantly underestimate my odds.

I explained all this to the kids line by line. I also told them that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint, and we all need to pace ourselves. I told them that I would like them to live a normal life, doing things that they enjoy, and not altering their plans much. I told Daniel that there is no reason to change his summer plans because of this. I intend to be around for decades.

While I was discussing all this, I noticed Jon sucking his thumb, though his face was expressionless. That…… broke my heart. Last time I saw him do it was when he was a toddler. Later, I talked with Daniel separately. He cried, and said he wishes it’s he, not me, who is going through this. Perish the thought! I told him that right after I got a clear inkling for what I was dealing with, I put a list together for things I am grateful for, and the first on the list was “I am so grateful that it’s I who is going through in this family, not my husband or kids”.

Now, it’s out and open. We push forward.