It wasn’t just once, but twice. It wasn’t just as a child, but as an adult too. A nine year old living in fear and helplessness led to an adult living in fear and helplessness just to hear at twenty-four what she experienced at nine: The words from a loved one “I have cancer.” The run from those words, pain, fear, and helplessness lasted until finally there was nowhere to run.
Cancer is no respecter of age, gender, or anything else. It ravishes people and families as it did mine. Its impact imprinted on the lives it touches. I was thirty-six when I finally stopped running from the chaos of cancer and had to face my nine-year-old self. I stopped running and faced the fear, grief, anger, and helplessness to which I had succumbed. Today, I sit in a training with others preparing to attend a summer camp that will work with families whose children are actively in the fight against cancer. And it stirs within me again a desire to fight again but in a different way.
The fight against cancer for me will not be in finding a cure for the disease, but rather a continued fight for helping families through a painful season. Whether it be cancer or any other disease, one thing is for certain: it is a family experience. The family, as a whole, experiences multiple losses in a variety of contexts: financially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and at times, physically. Due to these losses, an active grieving begins.
Each member may grieve differently and often that grief is not in sync with others in the family. Because each member has a different relationship with the one affected by illness, each member will grieve differently. Also, because there may be a shift in family dynamic and responsibilities, some members may have delayed grief. It may appear as though the person with delayed grief is not affected; others may view him/her as “strong.” However, that member is most likely just trying to survive. He or she may be responsible for the family remaining cohesive and feel as though his/her grief must wait so that the family can continue forward.
In one writing, it is impossible to cover each and every way a family can be impacted by illness or disease. But we want you to know that you are being thought of. If this is your journey now, we can help you navigate this journey. Please don’t travel it alone.
Peri Reed, M.S., LPC, RPT
Certification for trauma in children and adolescents