I was honored when my friend, Mihee Kim-Kort, invited me to be a part of her May blog series called, "The Meaning of Children." It's been a gift to read the reflections thus far about what we learn from our smallest teachers. My three-year-old son has been an important part of my cancer diagnosis and healing. My contribution to the series is a portion of a letter I am writing to him. “The Meaning of Children” blog series can be found here.
I’m writing you this letter trusting that I will be around to see your first day of kindergarten, watch you graduate from high school, and be a part of every single step in-between (and after!). Writing to you during a time that you may or may not remember is important to me. I want you to know how you are an important part of my healing.
Everyone was confident that the lump would turn out to be nothing. Test after test, each doctor reassured me that this was just procedural, but that soon I could go back to life as usual. We both know how that ended: a phone call twenty-four hours after the biopsy with a shaky voice saying, “Larissa, I am so sorry to have to call you with this news. You’re going to be okay. You’re young and you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. But your biopsy came back malignant. You’ve got breast cancer. I’m so sorry.”
In the beginning, all we told you was that I was sick. There were doctors taking care of me and I would be better soon. We reminded you constantly to cover your mouth when you coughed and to be gentle with me. No more running at full force with a crash and peals of laughter. No more rough playing. It felt like a new list of rules. Sure, it was necessary for my health but this new life was full of boundaries and limits. You took it with a smile and went on playing.
It was only when my hair started falling out that I knew something was going to change. I wanted to protect you from the tumor inside of me, but it was no longer possible. You would see my cancer for yourself. I walked around the house with my head covered for two days because I didn’t want to scare you. Yet, for some reason on that third day, I showed you my scruffy head. You reached out your hand, rubbed my scalp, and smiled, saying, “You cut your hair like daddy’s.”
Do you know how much joy it brought me when you once ripped off my hat and said, “Why are you wearing this? I like your bald head!”?
People tell me that I am brave and courageous. I need you to know that I sometimes feel like I am doing what I can just to stay alive. Each of these twists and turns (chemo, surgery, treatment options), they are all decisions that need to be made one way or another. Then I live with my choices. It doesn’t seem brave to me, just necessary. It’s what cancer requires of me now.
But you, my son, are the brave and courageous one.
You’re the one who looked at me while I was putting you to bed one night and asked, “Mommy, why are you sick?”
My heart dropped as I sorted through the thousands of ways to answer that question before I finally said, “I have something inside of me that’s not supposed to be there. The doctors are helping me get rid of it.”
“Mommy, tomorrow when we get back from school, I’ll give you some of my medicine. That will make you feel better.” Then you hugged me and slipped off to sleep.
You make me stronger and healthier in the way that only a three year old can. I know that each day you’ll wake up and scream from your bed, “Mommy! I’m awake. Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” I’ll walk into the room and you’ll stretch your arms out, squeeze them around my neck, and hold on tight as I carry you downstairs. It’s the first hug of the day.
I can’t hide. I can’t slip into darkness or walk toward the wilderness because you’re always there to call me back. There are toys to be played with and meals to share. Those spontaneous dance parties that break out in our kitchen when we realize that you (unfortunately) dance just like us. Tickles that give birth to exploding laughter that cracks my heart wide open every single time I hear it. There’s just too much for us to enjoy together.
If I’m even slightly courageous or brave, it’s because of you.
Larissa Kwong Abazia loves navigating transitions and she’s thankful that her family is always along for the ride. Life without Dan and Jonathan would be incomplete and downright impossible. When she’s not doing “church-y” things, she enjoys cooking, exploring, travelling, and trying new restaurants. You can follow her personal blog (when she’s inspired to write!), blog about cancer (there’s really not a less awkward way to explain this one), and on Twitter.