Wendy completed her chemotherapy treatment last week.
That is a wonderful and heavy and tremendous statement. One filled with more emotions, story and consequences than I am ready to write about yet.
So let’s talk about being home after chemo is done. It has been a week of mixed emotions, feeling relief that we are done with chemo but guilt that we are so behind in other aspects of life.
We got home from the hospital on Monday. Even though I had a cast on my arm (Only 3 days before Wendy’s last hospital stay I was standing on the couch to fix a curtain rod, fell and broke my arm) I was anxious to get started resuming a regular life and kicked school into gear on Tuesday. Our homeschooling the past 9 months has been more life experience than academic. I have called it our pediatric oncology homeschool. On Wednesday I presented them with new science curriculum, stressing to my oldest the need to rush through this curriculum, finish in the early fall to catch up on his freshman year while at the same time introducing my 13 year old to high school.
It did not go over well.
Did I mention I am also mending from a broken arm?
This week I have been talking with the kids about their experiences over the past 9 months. I asked them what they feel they learned through this experience. I wasn’t wanting them to talk about academics but their answers were orientated that way.
All I know is that I have to get school done before I can play video games, that is my motivation.
While you were in the hospital with Wendy, I would do history the first day, out of guilt, then no more.
Ouch! While those are honest comments we can expect any kid to say, the comments added to the “mom guilt” I had been feeling throughout my youngest’s treatments. I have failed as a homeschooling parent. While focusing on my youngest I have neglected my 3 other children.
As a parent of a child with cancer there are many forms of guilt we feel. Jessica, another cancer mom writes about her daughter’s cancer and reflects on guilt in this post. I feel that I am in the same place she is writing from. But today I’m am writing about the pull we feel between taking care of all of our children.
On a good day at the hospital Chris would bring the other kids so we could all spend the day together. But at the end of the day I would kiss them goodbye, stand in the doorway of Wendy’s hospital room and watch them walk down the hall. They are all old enough to understand what is going on and they don’t cry when I am not there to tuck them in at night.
On a bad day, a grandma would spend the night with Wendy at the hospital so I could go home, spend time with the other kids and sleep in my own bed. Before I would leave Wendy often expressed anger and sadness that I was leaving. She usually was fine after I left. She can depend on her grandparents to take care of her. But it was still very difficult for me.
Now the long hospital stays are over, but last week it hit me how far behind we are in school and caused me to feel I have neglected the kids’ educations. The same day I was dealing with this “cancer mom guilt” a fellow cancer mom on FB shared an article about PTSD in families dealing with pediatric cancer.
Some of the symptoms of PTSD discussed in this article are:
• Re-experiencing the cancer treatment in nightmares, intrusive thoughts or flashbacks–scenes that are often reported to be much like full sensory movies playing unbidden in one’s mind.
• Avoiding places, people and reminders of the cancer experience including shutting down sharing with others what one has been through.
• Negative changes in beliefs and feelings including feelings of guilt, fear, shame or losing interest in previously enjoyed activities and feeling alienated from others.
• Bodily hyper-arousal experienced as agitation, inability to fall or stay asleep, being easily startled, irritable, having difficulty concentrating and so on.
I do not feel that any of us are experiencing PTSD but the article was a reminder to me that we have all been through something traumatic the past 9 months and it will continue to effect us emotionally. Normal is not going to return the week Wendy rings her bell. The truth is our lives will not return to what it was before. We still have emotions to work through and we have to be patient with each other. I can not compare my kids to other kids their age.
Yes, my kids are doing school at a different pace then other kids their age. That’s okay. My oldest’s high school years are going to look different than most kid’s. That’s okay, in fact that is something we have always wanted anyway.
It is normal for adolescent children to find it a challenge to answer introspective questions like, “How have you grown as a person through your sister’s cancer treatment?” While they may have trouble expressing the challenges and person growth of the past 9 months I can see where they have grown.
My three older children have had to take on a greater portion of the farm and household chores. While at times they may have felt dumped on and overwhelmed I see a greater sense of responsibility in them. From setting up fence for cattle, collecting eggs, doing laundry and making meals, my children have a good grasp on how to keep this farm and household running.
Beyond the academics and work load responsibility they have learned an even greater lesson of supporting someone they love through a difficult time. They have had to learn about focusing on others and that we have to sacrifice to be there for them. This time has brought the four of them together in ways which will they will never forget.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-13 speaks to the value of community and friendship. It has been beautiful to watch my children live these verses out for Wendy and for each other.
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
The greatest achievement of our pediatric oncology homeschool has been how my kids have grown in who they are and how they have grown together. My kids have worked together. Whether it has been watering livestock or building a lego set, I love seeing them accomplish tasks together. They have lifted Wendy up and kept her warm. Both physically, when she was tired and cold, and by encouraging her heart when she was discouraged.
Our 2015-2016 school year was 9th, 8th, 5th and 3rd grade for our children. It ended up looking completely different than I had planned back in August, but it has been rich, full and valuable.