I’m visiting my niece and nephew at their home, which is a small miracle, as I haven’t been up here in a year. Since last December in fact. I don’t normally travel in Jan and Feb, and in March of 07 I was diagnosed with cancer, and that’s all she wrote for me for travel for 07. So my nephew, J, age 7, and I haven’t seen each other very much at all this year.
A small story:
We’re sitting together in the backseat of the car, coming back from dinner. We’re leaning against each other, just enjoying being near. He’s looking at me very thoughtfully, and asks: “Aunt Amanda, how’d that bad bug get IN you?”
This causes a slight moment of pause and panic on my part – “Umm, I have a bad bug in me?” My voice rises in mild alarm.
Then the penny drops. “Right, J, do you mean the cancer?”
“Yes,” he says, and then very distinctly says, “Your breast disease.”
I dodge the question for a minute, offering reassurance: “Well, you know how sometimes medicine is yucky, but then it makes you feel better?”
“Well, the doctors gave me a bunch of yucky medicine which made me very sick – like the medicine that made me lose my hair – and it worked, and made me better. So that bad bug is all GONE, and I’m all better.”
K., age 9, chimes in from the front seat: “Except the radiation wasn’t medicine Aunt Amanda, it was x-rays that they shined at your body to chase down any little remaining cancer cells.”
J. still looks concerned. Sigh. I’m not going to get out of this one. So, I tell him, “That’s a very good question sweetheart, one that everyone would like to know the answer to. No one knows how I got the cancer honey. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
His mom interrupts from the front seat with public health messages, “But some people who smoke do get lung cancer, and some people who are exposed to yucky chemicals get cancer too.”
I continue,”But I didn’t do those things. In fact, there are women who are perfectly in shape and do everything right and they still get cancer. We don’t know why.”
His mom agrees, “Sometimes the cells just decide to do funky things on their own.”
J. still looks worried. So I go with the evident: “But hey kiddo, look, my hair’s growing back and I’m getting better. Look, I’m here with you!” And I ruffle his hair, and he sighs and hugs me. Then we’re at his home, and the car ride is over.