Last week, on a cold, gray morning, I stood on the playground side-by-side with another mom, arms folded across our chests, watching our girls becoming friends (via lots of growling and gnashing of teeth and pretending to be monsters). This mom and I didn't know each other, but we'd agreed to meet, ostensibly so our children could play, but so we could try each other on for size, too.
All we knew we about each other at that moment could be summed up on one hand: 1) We both have daughters, 2) who are 4, 3) who go to the same preschool, 4) in the same town. That's it. Before I had Nia, I might have thought that was enough upon which to build a friendship. Now I know that is basically the same as having brown hair in common (which we do).
But the lack of information about each other was refreshing, too.
Here was someone who didn't know me before I had cancer -- running into people who I used to know who I now had to tell I had cancer was very awkward mostly because I'd end up consoling them. Here was someone I didn't meet me in the midst of cancer (with the neon sign that is a bald head). Here was the first brand-new person I was meeting post-cancer.
Do I tell her?
Over the next two hours, we discovered many similarities between us -- a love of photography, attachment parenting beliefs, husbands who work over the hill, natural birth tendencies.
And so I decided to share with her that I'd had cancer last year.
Her eyes grew wide for a second, during which time she flicked her gaze to my short haircut, and then she looked at Nia.
"Wow," she said. "That must have been so hard as a parent."
Oh. My. God. She got it. *happy sigh*
One of the hardest parts of parenting with cancer is knowing when to shield Nia, and when to include her. I've always been as open as possible with her -- talking about the illness, the treatment, the side-effects. Letting her see me cry, but also showing her what makes me feel better, too.
But I've always been careful not to scare her, and have only given her what I thought she could handle. Sometimes we talk about cancer a lot, and other times it only comes up once or twice a week.
Most of the time, when Nia has come to the doctor with me, it is because I think she needs it: She needs to see where I go, to see who is taking care of me, that it is a safe place and that I'm not in pain there.
But yesterday I took her with me for me.
I had yet another echocardiogram yesterday (an ultrasound of my heart). I don't know why, but this is my least favorite procedure. It is just tedious. It is at the hospital, so I have to first check in with the main hospital registration. They give me a piece of paper that I then have to carry all the way to the cardiopulminary department. I check in there, and then sit in the surgery waiting area (which is usually populated with stressed out people). Then I get called into the exam room where I don a hospital gown and lay on a bed. Electrodes are connected, gel is squirted and then my heart is viewed and recorded from various angles. Sometimes it takes 20 minutes, other times it takes an hour -- I always have a different tech.
Like I said, it is just tedious. (And it is hard not to worry about what is being seen or not seen on that ultrasound screen.)
So yesterday I invited my sidekick to join me. She was delighted!
I passed her my camera -- a rare treat -- and she documented the whole thing. Afterward she got 2 chocolate kisses from the hospital gift shop -- another treat. And we skipped all the way to the car.
Because she had fun, so did I -- and we turned a tedious hospital/doctor visit into something I'll remember fondly.
Lesson 792 in the Parenting with Cancer Guidebook: Oftentimes having a kiddo on this journey is really hard, but sometimes -- some truly glorious times -- it can be the sugar that helps the medicine go down.