(Stranger Things reference, sorry)
But I also believe that parents shouldn’t lie, either. I sometimes wonder if my parents read here because they read my old blog, even though I never invited them to do so. If they’re reading here, too bad, because I have to get this out and I make no apologies for it.
I had a very upsetting conversation with my mom today in which she encouraged withholding information from my kids about my husband’s cancer.
I tried to rationalize that maybe they had reasons for withholding information from me about important family events, like my grandmother’s death until months after the fact or my dad’s former marriage and child. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I thought that maybe those things were just too painful for them to deal with.
But no, now I find out they actually think that information should be kept secret just because they don’t respect being honest with children of any age.
I told my mom today that I wanted my husband to be tested for Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition that is often involved when people get cancer under age 50 and have a strong family history of cancer, both of which apply to my husband. It specifically makes people more likely to develop colon cancer at a young age. I think that is important to know so that my kids can be proactive about their health if they’re at risk. My husband’s sister would need to know about it because she and her kids may be at risk, too.
On the other hand, if he gets tested and it’s negative, that will offer a lot of reassurance and peace of mind.
She told me “that might be something to think about down the road but probably not too important for now.” And “I know you’re scared. I understand. But there’s no sense scaring the kids.”
I don’t think she will want to know if my kids are at risk because I think the prospect is too scary for her to think about. But that doesn’t mean the same is true for us.
Does she think my kids are still elementary school age? My youngest is 16 and the other two are young adults. Does she think they’re not already scared? They’ve already asked us if they’re at greater risk of getting cancer. The oncologist told us that they should begin getting colonoscopies at 36, ten years younger than when my husband got diagnosed, and that’s what we told them.
Cancer researchers already know that the rate of colorectal cancer is increasing in young people, including people as young as 20 years old. A person born in 1990 has a greater risk than someone born in 1950.
There is no way in freaking hell that I am protecting them from information that directly affects them, just in an effect to avoid scaring them. One of my kids has recurrent IBS-like symptoms very similar to what my husband dealt with beginning in high school. It would be extremely important for him to know if he’s at higher genetic risk of colon cancer. I wish my husband had gotten checked earlier, though I’m not sure what they would have found because so much of it was hiding and not visible from colonoscopy.
I am so angry at the suggestion that it would be unnecessarily scaring them to know if they’re at higher risk. It’s not like they’re in preschool and you need to adjust what you say to a developmentally appropriate level. These are not little kids in some land of blissful ignorance where they don’t need to know the extent of what’s really going on.
There are many aspects of my husband’s cancer that terrify me which I haven’t told my kids about, like what the oncologist told us about the extent of his cancer. I don’t talk to the kids about my worst fears. It’s not like our house is a gloomy cancer fest all the time. For the most part, we don’t talk about it often but it’s also not a forbidden topic. My oldest has talked to me about “what-ifs” and I both validated his fears but also demonstrated calmness.
But the kids are also, again, not dumb. They asked questions about what it means that my husband’s chemo got canceled two weeks in a row. I just said that the chemo was powerful and still working, but the doctors are waiting for his body to recover from the chemo, which is true. They needed to know that my husband’s white blood cells are now at a level where he’s officially immunocompromised, so that they can know how to be careful.
I am never, ever going to lie to my kids, especially not when it directly affects them. Yes, it’s scary. But it’s scary for them whether they know what their risk is or not. It’s not like if we never talk about cancer, they’ll be in some fantasy land for the duration of his treatment. I don’t want them to wake up some day and be told that their dad died and they had no idea it was coming, even though I think that would be my parents’ preferred approach. I don’t think my parents would tell me if they themselves had cancer.
Not that I think my husband is dying, it’s just a shadow looming over us and we can’t pretend it’s not there. And I don’t want them to get cancer at 46 and find out it was preventable like my husband did.
This is not the kind of situation where you can stick your head up your ass and pretend it’s not happening. If there’s one thing that angers me about my upbringing more than anything else, that’s it. It’s incredibly disrespectful of your kids to think they’re not mature enough to know about important things, even when they’re adults.
Someone on a Reddit thread about what to tell your kids about cancer risks said this, which hit really close to home: “If you can’t trust your own family to be honest with you, who can you trust?” Exactly.
My parents had issues with me lying when I was a kid but they set a poor example of the same. Withholding information from kids is not protective; it’s infantilizing bullshit.