Recently Jack told David that his life was perfect. David looked at him incredulously and asked, “What about the cancer?”
Jack replied, “Cancer doesn’t bother me much.”
Tuesday morning I found Jack sitting in a corner of his room by himself when he was supposed to be putting his shoes on. He was just sitting there. When I asked him what was going on, he told me he felt weird and sad and didn’t know why.
Are you sad because you don’t feel good?
Are you sad because you miss your dad and brother?
Are you tired and that’s making you sad?
Is there something happening at school to make you sad?
None of those, he said. He just didn’t know. He was sad and teary and had no energy for school.
I pulled him into my lap and cuddled with him. I told him I felt that way sometimes, too. We decided to stay home and snuggle under the covers and watch a movie together. We would have a mental health day.
He went to school on Wednesday, and then Thursday came around. Upon waking, he complained that his back hurt, he was shivery, and he had no energy. We went about our normal morning routine and I hoped he would rally and be able to go to school. But he did not. Instead his stomach and chest started hurting.
I decided to give him some time and then I told him I was going to take him to school but that if he wasn’t feeling better by lunch time, I would pick him up. He buried his head in the couch and started hitting it. He growled. I told him I would let him work it out and get his shoes on while I brushed my teeth. But when I came back, he was throwing things and holding up a screwdriver by his face and pulling on his hair. I told him he wasn’t allowed to hurt himself, and he stomped off to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him.
After a bit he emerged again but was still growling and stomping and throwing things about. So I tried to talk to him.
You seem really upset. I bet you’re mad that you feel sick all the time. You probably hate taking so many pills. And you don’t have any control over those pills.
“The pills feel like poison,” he replied. He had quieted a bit and was listening to me, albeit with a frown in place.
I bet that makes you mad that you have to take medicine and that medicine doesn’t even make you feel good – it just makes you feel worse!
Medicine is no fun. And you know what, cancer sucks. I hate cancer. It’s not fair that you have to deal with cancer, Jack. You didn’t do anything to deserve cancer. Cancer is a jerk and it shouldn’t be allowed!
“Yeah, I hate cancer, too! It makes me want to break things!”
Well, you can’t break things, but what about ripping things? I’m sure we have scratch paper you can rip up. Sometimes ripping things up makes me feel better. Oooh, and what if you drew cancer and THEN ripped it up?!
That got some life back into him. We headed to the office and I found some scratch paper and handed it over to him. I then gave him some space.
He drew two pictures, each time coming to find me and show me how he could rip cancer to shreds. He shouted “murder” at the pieces and then stomped on them. A bit of a smile came onto his face after destroying the second drawing. I asked if he would draw one for me to rip up, too. He went right to work and came back with an illustration of a body labeled cancer and a dotted line across its throat. He pointed and said, “This is where you can rip its head off.”
I ripped its head off and then kept on ripping while yelling at it, “I hate you, cancer. How dare you hurt my son! You leave Jack alone! No one wants you here! You suck and we hate you! Don’t ever come back!”
And then I stomped on the little pieces for good measure while a cackle bubbled up in Jack’s throat. I felt so much relief to hear that laugh. My boy was back, if just for a bit. We had broken through the cloud that engulfed him.
He kept drawing and I made a phone call to see if I could move up the initial appointment with the new therapist. Thankfully, a spot had opened up in her schedule for that evening.
I then got a text from Jack’s aunt asking if some time with cousins might cheer Jack up. Thank you thank you thank you, I thought. We ate lunch and headed straight there. His aunt and I drank tea and chatted while Jack and his cousin Isha closeted themselves in the office and drew pictures together.
Later, he put up a fight about leaving and got angry all over again but we headed to the therapist’s office anyway. After an hour with her, he was almost back to his old self. I don’t know the details about their session, but Jack did draw something for the therapist and also said, “I told her about my sad feelings.” He also said he’d love to come back. So, I’ll count that as a good session indeed.
Jack asked to watch an episode of Cupcake Wars with me when we got home. We snuggled up and watched a British-themed episode. Jack kept petting me the whole time and we hugged over and over.
It was a terribly rough day in an already difficult week, but at the end it felt like we’d made progress. Maybe Jack’s grief has moved on from denial and he is now allowing the anger to come out. Maybe next time he talks about cancer, he’ll admit that it sucks instead of pretending that his life is perfect.
Even if he doesn’t, we have one picture leftover from yesterday to mark the occasion. We may have to frame it.