I'm a big believer that when a problem rears its head, the solution can be found in a book. Rarely are our problems unique, and that's a comfort. Sometimes the best book, though, isn't a parenting book or a how-to guide or a medical journal. Sometimes it is a beautifully-written, thoughtfully-illustrated childrens' book that does the trick.
Before I knew really anything about how we were going to survive this cancer journey, I knew we needed to find some childrens' books to help Nia understand what was happening -- and what was coming. She herself even asked Joe to find some books at the library about cancer.
It turned out to be a little harder than we first imagined to find the right books though. There are books about kids with cancer and books about grandparents with cancer, but there were only a handful of books about moms with cancer designed specifically for young children. Also, because cancer treatment protocols are changing all the time, it took a little bit to find books that didn't feature surgery as the first step in the cancer-fighting process. We needed books that talked about chemotherapy, but not in a too-scary way. (We found one library book that featured real photos of a real family dealing with cancer, which seemed promising, but then the pictures of the mama having treatments were frightening even to me -- she looked a little too skeletal, a little too at-death's-door sleeping bald-headed in the chemo recliner...)
Finally, after digging through Amazon myself and Joe getting some help from one of his librarian colleagues, we came up with a good stack of warmly illustrated books that didn't sugar-coat cancer, but also weren't too serious -- perfect for our family. (Thanks, Whitney, for Mom Has Cancer, too!) (About using Amazon: I'd love to go down to Bookshop Santa Cruz and talk about this with the childrens book expert there, but I'm hesitant to go to a book store environment these days. Sigh.)
This one is Nia's favorite: The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Janna Matthies. We are now planning our own Goodbye Cancer Garden for the summer. In this book, in addition to watching a garden grow as the mom battles her cancer, the kids meet their mom's oncologist. It gave us the idea to let Nia come to my doctor's office and see where I get my treatments. She got to see me hooked up to the machine and meet Dr. Y. She saw that it was a friendly place where good things happen (and she saw that I wasn't being hurt there). That was hugely beneficial for her (definitely a Rule for Parenting with Cancer, I'd say!).
Nowhere Hair by Sue Glader and Punk Wig by Lori Ries. These were helpful in broaching the subject that my hair will eventually fall out due to the chemo. We really weren't sure how Nia would take that idea, but she's taken it in stride and even decided to get her own hair cut. Eventually when I go wig shopping, Nia wants a wig, too, which I think is a terrific idea. I think Punk Wig is my favorite because the mom's a little spunky and I can relate to her a little more than some of the more mainstream moms in the other books and because I'm not planning to have a wig that resembles my normal hair. I want something outrageous!
This is another one that focuses on the hair-loss aspect of cancer-fighting: Hair for Mama by Kelly Tinkham. This is the most serious of the books we have. The mama in this book is having a hard time with her hair loss and her children, 10 & 8, talk about the fact that some moms don't get better. But the topic isn't focused on too heavily and the overall story is uplifting. Nia requests this one frequently.
Two more we like: You are the Best Medicine by Julie Aigner Clark is very sweet and comforting, and Mom Has Cancer by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos does a great job of explaining that mom didn't get cancer because of something the kid did.