When she found out she would have to have chemo, I felt my stomach churn. Next, tears began to fall from my eyes and onto my cat, who was curled up in my lap while I watched “Parenthood” on TV. But by the end of the show, I was shouting at the TV, “Tell her the truth!” That’s when the cat ditched me.
If you haven’t been watching the show, Kristina, mom of a college student, a special needs middle schooler and a baby, came out of a lumpectomy on last week’s episode to discover she’d need chemotherapy despite an initial prognosis to the contrary.
As I watched the dread and devastation cross her face, I swear I could smell my hospital room. I could feel the “Red Devil,” Adriamycin, coursing through my veins. I could see the smokestacks behind Roosevelt Island outside my window overlooking the East River. I could hear my kids playing the piano for me on my cell phone while I stifled sobs.
Kristina has no idea what’s about to happen to her.
But when she and her husband Adam returned home, they lied. They told their daughter, Haddie, a freshman at Cornell University who had flown home to help, that her mom was cancer-free. They told her to go back to school. They lied to their daughter to protect her, and protecting our kids is what we parents do best. They want her to enjoy her college experience and be a kid, not a caregiver.
That’s when I started yelling at the TV. I pictured Haddie going back to school, only to find out her parents hadn’t told her the truth.
She will feel cheated.
She will feel lied to.
She will feel upset that she wasn’t trusted to decide for herself how to handle the fact that her mother has to have chemo.
And that will stay with her for a very long time.
Knowing what I know now that I’m nearly five years into remission, here’s what I would tell real-life Kristinas to do:
- Tell your kids you have to have chemotherapy. Give the older kids the reasons without being alarmist, but don’t sugar-coat it either.
- Tell your college kid you would prefer that she go back to school, but that you will leave it up to her to decide where she feels she needs to be.
- Tell all of your kids that you love them and appreciate them very much.
It sounds simple, but it’s really hard to resist the urge to protect your kids (of all ages), instead of being (age appropriately) straight with them. But when one person in a family has cancer, it’s like the whole family has cancer, and you have to let everyone deal with it however they need to.
This week when I watch “Parenthood,” I’ll have tissues nearby again. This time, though, I’ll prepare the cat for any sudden outbursts I’ll have for Kristina.
TELL US: How do you feel about the cancer storyline on “Parenthood”?