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If your child asks you what a honeymoon is, listen to their answer! Explaining cancer to a child.

By Aideé Granados

February 25, 2016


A few weeks ago, while we were going back from school, my daughter asked me: “Mom, what is this“ honeymoon ”thing?”. María Andrea is 5 years old. I preferred to return the question to him, to know what ground he was treading: "María Andrea, tell me, what is the Honeymoon?".


His answer was: "A trip around the world, made by the prince and the princess." Then I just added: “… after they get married”, (I took the opportunity to emphasize this!), “The prince and the princess go on a trip around the world”.


She was happy and satisfied with the answer. I did not want, nor need anything else.


Something similar happened to us when we decided to share with her about the type of cancer that I had been diagnosed with.


María Andrea, at that time, was just 3 years old. She was already realizing everything and, at the same time, she was still our baby for some things: she still asked us to hold her frequently, we still bathed her, she still wanted us to go up with her to games in the park, etc.


Because of my chemotherapy and radiation treatment, as well as the surgeries that I would have, I knew that I would not be able to be for María Andrea as I used to. What happened was, I stopped charging it for a long time. I could no longer take care of his daily bath, nor did I have the energy to play for hours climbing in the park games. I even stopped driving to take her to and from school. I was doing my best; however, that was not enough for her energy and desire for attention.


My husband and I decided not to hide anything from him at all. However, how to explain to a 3-year-old girl, her mother's cancer? The key was to explain it in your words, with your examples, in context. So we set out to listen to it. And she herself gave us the correct words, the correct examples, her precise context.


Dad: - "Mom is not feeling well, Maria Andrea."

María Andrea: - "Does mom have a boo-boo?"

Dad: - “Yes! Mom has a boo-boo inside her body. " (A "boo-boo" for a child is usually a cut, a wound, a scrape, which hurts and makes you feel bad. A "boo-boo" needs attention).


María Andrea: - "Is the doctor going to cure you?"

Mom: - “Many doctors are going to cure me; I will have to go often to the hospital to see them and take medicine ”.

María Andrea: - "Does your boo-boo have germs -bacteria- and are they removed with medicine?"

Dad: - “A large part, yes. The medicine is given to them in the hospital. That medicine makes her feel tired, sleepy, so we'll let her rest when she asks us to. "


María Andrea: - "Why is your hair falling out, Mom?"

Mom: - “Because the medicine is removing all the boo-boos and germs and sometimes, even in the hair there are boo-boos and germs! So better now that they are completely removed ”.

María Andrea: - "But, I want to make you braids, comb your hair!"

Mom: - “Draw the braids on my head; of all colors! Put bows on it if you want ”.


María Andrea: - “Why does my mother have scars on her body, because she is not“ complete ”?

Dad: - “Because the doctors cut that boo-boo and removed it once and for all. Now there is no boo-boo in her body! "


Together, Nathan and I wanted to take care of the way and the moment to explain things to him. We took time to speak with her and answer her questions, whenever they arose. We listened to her and she herself guided us.


Sometimes this matter of explaining to her and making her part of this adventure was not at all rational. He was 3 years old! Sometimes it was just crying and frustration; and more crying. We learned to recognize these ways of expressing fear, pain, confusion. María Andrea understood how difficult and serious the situation was. We learned to be there, to continue walking together. We do not stop being firm parents; however, during this period we were much more loving. We try to be more empathetic, patient, and understanding with her.


Another thing that helped us a lot to explain cancer was to facilitate practical, sensitive, and manipulative experiences; experiences that I could touch, feel, see. That is why María Andrea met my doctors in person: so she knew who was helping me to heal. María Andrea participated in healing a simple wound: that is how she knew how my body was recovering and gaining strength. María Andrea helped pull the hair out of my head: that is how she understood that one day it was going to fall out completely, and then it would reappear (and she took the opportunity several times to make works of art on my shiny bald head).


Of course, we always took care that he did not hear, see or feel the miseries of cancer, the dark, black, bitter, negative side. As a family, we had already proposed to see the good side of that test and learn as much as possible. We were going to do it together.


Living cancer is difficult. Living it with children is even more difficult. Yes, they are a motivation to be healthy and survive. However, they are also the biggest pain in our hearts, when seen to suffer from a parent's illness. Impotence! What parent wants their children to go through that?


I know people who say that children "don't realize it." That they forget. That it is better to keep them apart, apart, from these penalties. In our particular case, we did not believe it (and we do not believe it) that way. These situations, although totally aberrant for children, are extraordinary opportunities to unite the family, to strengthen faith, to form larger, nobler, more dedicated hearts. Of course, I wish a child would never have to experience cancer, either in his body or in that of someone very dear to him.


Three years after this happened, María Andrea has already forgotten many details (thank God!). However, her heart was shaped in a special way; in the fire, it was measured. To this day, she keeps asking every night for her mom and other moms not to have boo-boos. She is the true champion of all this.