I was given a book to review, called "My Parent Has Cancer And It Really Sucks." I skipped through the book and found it quite good, clearly written for young teens in their voice, and one I recommend you give to your older child if you are diagnosed. They will learn that their feelings about having a parent with cancer (both fear and annoyance) is all quite normal. While I skimmed it all the way through, I did not read it in depth.
I asked my son if he would do a co-review with me. I thought that would be really fun for my readers to understand his perspective, and perhaps, since his mother was terminal and the author's was not, he could expand on it some. He said yes. "Yay!" I thought. "A Mother/Son Project!"
Little did I know that it would not be so much fun for him. My son, as I have bragged endlessly, is an IB student with a 4.6 GPA. He is clearly college-bound, a math/science nerd, a junior and very active in school, both academically and socially.
Here's the difference between mother and son. I thought of this as a great project for us to do together and he thought of it as ..... a book report. More homework.
I'm sure he also thought of it as time spent thinking about his mother's cancer, and unlike most in the book, he knows that his mother will not survive. Why spent time thinking about that? I wouldn't at 15 either. The experiences of kids whose moms don't do chemo for 3 years, who don't have numerous surgeries and numerous times when they are sick might be feel different to him, might make him feel unlucky.
Maybe. Maybe not. Mostly, I think, it just was another thing he didn't have time to do.
To be truthful, he has handled this situation beautifully and he didn't really need any advice.
So, it never got done. He finally admitted he didn't want or have time to read it, so I let it go. But, I had gotten a free book, had promised to review it, and from what I'd read, it seemed a good book, a useful book for teens, especially ones on the younger side. So, when I was asked to post the below letter by the teenage author of the book, I was happy to do so instead of a writing a detailed review, which should probably be done by a teen anyway.
Before we get to Maya's note, I just want to wish all my readers who are Moms dealing with cancer while trying to raise your kids a Happy Mother's Day. Trust me, I know it is not a simple task. Maybe it's the hardest thing you've ever done. The fact that you are being celebrated - you deserve it most of all.
Mother's Day is meant to be All About Mom. We are all (for the most part!) grateful for our mothers. They gave birth to us. They raised us. They were there for us when we needed them the most.
For me, there is one extra layer to Mother's Day -- to any day really. It's the knowledge that I can never, should never, will never take my mom for granted. When your mom has battled cancer, the distant possibility that she might not always be there suddenly becomes tangible.
When I was 15, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I never wanted to talk about it. Like many teens facing a parent's cancer, I was fearful. I was ashamed. I felt guilty. Last year, my father and I collaborated on a guide for teens whose parents have cancer called, "My Parent Has Cancer And It Really Sucks." (Sourcebooks, March 2013).
During the writing process, I reflected deeply on the cancer experience in my family. For the first time since my mom was diagnosed, I processed and analyzed all of my teenaged emotions, reactions and behaviors during this difficult time.
And so, here's a letter to mom. An apology. A clarification. A thank you:
I wasn't always there for you. I didn't always ask you how you were doing. I avoided you. I was embarrassed that you were sick, bald, exhausted. I chose sleepovers with friends over family nights. Did I buy you flowers? Did I give you a hug every night before you went to bed? Was I ever mean? Did I yell?
I can't remember the details. The year of cancer in our family was a blur. And I wish I were a better daughter at the time.
After talking to so many other teens going through this experience and spending a year reflecting upon, thinking about, processing cancer, I can now give you a window into my teenaged mind. I wanted to be independent. I didn't want to pitied. I believed so strongly that you would survive that I avoided fear and rejected grief about the experience. I felt guilty when I wasn't there for you.
I want to apologize for the way I may have acted, for the things I didn't do and the words I never spoke. I want to let you know that I was scared, I did care and I did want to be there for you.
And I want to thank you for being an incredible model for me and for anyone battling cancer. You dealt with it realistically and gracefully -- all while still being an awesome mom. Thank you for not holding me to higher expectations (even if you should have!). Thank you for understanding that I still needed to be a teen. Thank you for forgiving me if I wasn't always the best daughter. And thank you for the one silver lining of our cancer experience - the opportunity for Dad and I to give back and fill a gap in resources. Now, teens will have a guide to turn to and hopefully be better sons and daughters to a parent with cancer than I was!
Happy Mothers Day.