What Short Stack gets, part 3: Cancer
[Read What Short Stack gets, part 1 and part 2.]
Bad news, Mommy. Really bad news. You know that really really terrible sickness where everybody's hair falls out and then they die?
Well, it's going around.
(Pause) Honey, most of the really bad sicknesses like that aren't catching. It can't be spread around at your school.
But lots and lots of people are getting that sickness. It's very dangerous.
Maybe... do you think those kids are talking about cancer?
(She spun around, excited.) Yes, cancer, that's it! It's going around at my school and lots of people are going to die from it.
(I owed you a post anyway, about my mixed feelings about cancer advocacy AND my analysis of the current environment in cancer research based on being a science writer and advocate and family member at the same time for 2 years. About how hope sucks sometimes (even though yes, I'd want it!) and no one who understands research on most cancers is really reaching for a cure anymore, anyway. It would have been a black and confusing post that failed to conceal my vitriol and hurt. You're better off with this one, anyway, at least for now.)
Ah, well, cancer. Mommy is an expert at cancer.
Really? Amelia said more than one half of all people will get cancer and so that means they will die!
(This is actually as severe a misunderstanding of this basic statistic as I heard from a 40-year-old at my HS reunion last year. Demonstrating, I guess, that it wasn't a very good high school, and that my 7-year-old could, by tomorrow, be ahead of that adult in her understanding of statistics.)
Well, Amelia is not quite understanding what those numbers mean. That's not how cancer works and even though it can be very dangerous, not that many people will die from it. I can answer a lot of questions about cancers, if you want to talk about it. I used to work with doctors and other smart people who study cancer. And remember, your Daddy had cancer.
That's what he died from?
Yes. But there are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, and the one that Daddy had was one of the very, very strong ones. There are a lot of different kinds, and some of them are easy to take care of. You don't have anything to worry about. Maybe some of the other kids know someone who had a cancer, too?
Yes, Francie says that her mommy's sister had it and her grandma and that her mommy had it, too.
That's very sad. I'm sorry to hear that.
And Joey's little sister is only three years old, no, one years old maybe, and she has it, too.
That's terrible, when a little kid gets sick. I mean, we know a little kid didn't do anything to catch the cancer, right?
How does somebody catch cancer, Mommy?
Well, we really don't know all the reasons why someone gets cancer, but we do know some things that no one should ever do, that are super duper dangerous, like smoking cigarettes.
My Daddy used to smoke a LOT LOT LOT!
Well, not quite, he stopped smoking a long long time ago, but yes, he did used to smoke when he was much younger. For most people if they get cancer, there usually isn't just one reason.
Are you going to get cancer and die?
Well, everybody has to die sometime, but I hope that my body lasts for a long, long long time, until you are all grown up and for some time after that too. But hardly anyone in my family has ever had cancer which means I am very very lucky. Sounds like a lot of people in Francie's family have had cancer?
But Daddy got cancer and died! That means you could get it, too.
No, I am not related to Daddy in that way -- I was married to him but my parents don't have any cancer in their families. Remember that show you saw about DNA?
(She knows just enough about DNA to know it's sort of like Google, because later the same day she told me: "I know how the Magic 8-Ball knows everything. It has DNA in it, and the DNA goes out and asks everybody in the world and then the Magic 8-Ball gives us the answer." Which, I suppose, is slightly more accurate than her previous belief that the Magic 8-Ball was really magic. She has not got to ESP yet, or, the Magic 8-Ball can read your mind.)
My DNA from my healthy family means that I will probably not get cancer, or at least, probably not for a very long time.
But I am in Daddy's family! I could get it!
I don't think you will, honey. Even if you get some kind of cancer, maybe when you are very old, you might get one of the cancers that is easy to treat.
(I didn't go into how research is advancing so quickly that by the time she is older, there will already be cures for most of those 200 types of cancer. Which, remember, I'm totally not on board with. But I might have to be, now. Right? Because you can't live in this world without hope and comfort and without simplifying some of the pictures in it?).
Sweetie, it's normal to be scared about very bad sicknesses like cancer, but we also have to remember to cross the street carefully, and stay away from foods that might have a little bit of a peanut in them. I don't think you have too much to worry about with cancer or too many of the other dangerous things in the world. Just be as careful as you already are and maybe a little tiny bit more. You're going to be alive for a long, long time and I will be with you as long as I can, honey.