I have been pondering for the last few weeks how to explain the unfairness of very serious medical diagnosis to children. There really is no easy way. My children have been very fortunate in their lifetime not to feel the unfairness of life. The worst unfairness they have had is the divorce of their father and I about 7 years ago and the first death of a grandparent this last fall. There is so much tragedy and unfairness in the world that can't be imagined from our little town in Kansas. On one hand it is awesome that they don't know but on the other hand, life drips with unfairness and when it is never experienced, how can it be explained?
My heart attack was very scary for them. Because I have been so open with the world about my experiences, they have been immersed in education about women and heart disease. They volunteer with me at AHA--Kansas City events. I am going to take them out of school this spring to volunteer with me at a Friday event. It is of huge importance for them to see me take something really bad in my life and turn it into something really good. The lesson is that life is what you make it. I could have never not shared this and not spoken of it to them because for me that would have been be an impossible journey. Perhaps this is not what someone else would choose and I would never fault someone for choosing not to share. I took this chance to help and educate others and grabbed that bull by the horns. Our lives are richer for it--richer for the people we have met on this journey that is strange, scary and beautiful all at the same time.
I can set an example for them of how to handle the bad things, but what I can't explain is why the bad things happen. My middle school child has experienced a classmate and friend that has been diagnosed with leukemia. She is very ill and currently cannot attend class. The town we live in held a benefit last night in her honor if which she was able to attend. My daughter and one of her friends went up to the rec center and were able to see her. I think it frightened them because she is swollen and wearing a wig and from the description has some tubes attached (I didn't go because I have been very ill with strep and you certainly don't want to spread that to a child having chemo). I didn't see her appearance but I am not unfamiliar with how this treatment can change the appearance.
When my daughter got home last night I know she was looking for me to explain leukemia and then for me to tell her that her friend was going to be ok. I want to tell her that but I also don't want to tell her that and then have her friend not be ok. How much do you say to someone who is 12? I found it incredibly difficult to educate and comfort because when you start explaining leukemia, there is nothing comforting about it.
So I turned the conversation to what we could do to help because I genuinely don't know how to explain the unfairness of cancer in a twelve year old (or in anyone for that matter). If I can't explain the unfairness to my daughter, imagine her parents explaining to her how sick she is. My heart breaks for them and even though I don't know them, they are often in my thoughts. This little girl loves Taylor Swift and wants to meet her--not that Taylor Swift will answer and I told my daughter this but I also told my daughter to get in and send and email and give it a try. I am going to help her with that today. The worst that can happen is that you get an answer of no or that you don't get any answer. You don't know if you don't try. I had given her money for the things at the benefit--turned out everything was free so she donated the money. I told her that although this does not seem like much, it is amazing what the little things can add up to. It is a whole lot easier to explain that all of the little things that everyone in our community does for them adds up to a great big hug from our community for this little girl and her family. All of the prayers that our community says for them, hopefully they can feel. This is the lesson I teach because to teach the unfairness lesson is really tough to do and I don't know how to do it.
I don't know how to do this because I still don't know how to explain why I got to live and 80 percent of women who experience what I did have the unfairness of dying. Why of those who do live my outcome has been so much better than others. I'm quite sure in the end there is no way to really ever explain it. There is no way to explain why people suffer a devastating medical diagnosis; why some people survive a diagnosis and others don't. It is not specific to heart attacks or cancer but is far reaching across many medical diagnoses. I think what I teach to my children in the end is there is no rhyme or reason and that is unfair. There really is no explanation of the unfairness but what you do with the unfairness is what matters.