Since Jack was diagnosed with cancer there have been both sweeping changes and little changes in our life. Some are harder to describe than others. Aspects of his personality that were there before might now come out in a more noticeable way, or they might be more hidden, protected. Jack is still himself, of course, but the version of him we are living with now isn’t as steady or balanced. I wonder how much of him is changing permanently because of this experience.
I’m not sure I can still describe him as a “happy-go-lucky” kid, for instance.
His mood can change on a dime, and he is VERY sensitive. He is quick to cry, quick to anger, and quick to feel defeated. No amount of good-natured teasing is allowed. A simple behavior correction or disagreeing statement will send him running to his bedroom with an, “I’m going away from you now!” If he gets angry, he’ll growl and even hit himself in the head.
Jack is great at interacting with adults now. Often it seems he prefers it; after all, adults behave less erratically than kids and are more likely to give him what he wants. Other kids require more negotiation, more effort to communicate, and a jumble of emotions, including frustration. Being isolated from social situations like school and daycare for nine months has led to Jack avoiding socializing with kids if he can help it. It even takes cajoling to get him to attend a birthday party.
With that said, it can be difficult to interact with Jack due to his lack of attention span. He has so little focus. Questions must be repeated several times, and he needs constant reminders – within seconds of each other! – to get him to do anything at all. He is distractable, flighty, and more forgetful than ever.
His skills with art are as great as ever, but any math he knew from Kindergarten has eroded (although we’re hoping this can be regained fairly quickly). His interest in reading has lessened, likely due to headaches and side effects from chemo. Since he is easily frustrated, he typically doesn’t stick with new things long enough to improve at them.
He’s been a fairly thin kid since he reached the toddler stage, but now he has ZERO muscle definition. He is skinny as can be – the baby fat is gone, too. His eyes are a little sunken with shadows, and his skin is so, so dry all the time. Despite continuing to go on hiking adventures with his dad, he is quickly winded with any activity – he no longer runs everywhere or challenges us to race to the door.
He eats like a bird (since the steroids were left behind) and his diet is limited. The full array of things he will eat includes: carrots, cherry tomatoes, cheese, salami, rice, grapes, apples, edamame, chocolate, waffles, pretzels, seaweed and milk. No more chicken. No more fish. No more peanut butter and jelly. Definitely no yogurt! He’s even less likely than he was before to try new things, too.
It’s not all bad, and things could definitely be worse. Things take longer, are more frustrating or serious, more worrisome. He has not been unaffected by all that cancer has brought in the last nine months.
Still, he’s HERE and he can still smile. He’s growing, he’s still learning, he’s still a spectacular kid. I can hold him and we can laugh and giggle together. He’s still my sweet, Scooby-Doo-loving, alien-impersonating, imaginative and fierce little boy.
He’s still Jack.