The social worker (SW) is not what I was expecting. 40ish, very glam and stylish. I was expecting more LL Bean fleece than Chanel silk. She's the kind of woman that makes you hyper-aware of your eyebrows and cuticles and scuffed up who-remembers-what-season-ago boots. Which is NOT good for the tumor. I dislike her instantly. The way I dislike women I see everywhere these days. Women going about their business. At the market, at gymnastics, at Starbucks and Dunkies. Women who are obliviously organized enough to throw together a nice outfit and get their hair and nails done fairly often. To me, they are a personal affront; a double-barrel middlefingered "F**k you! I'm normal and healthy and you're not." But then I don't feel that way at all. I feel like it's the way I should feel toward these women all around me. For me, it's never the why me, it's the why not me. And I wonder how pathetic and self loathing one has to be to believe that she somehow deserves to get cancer more than the next person. But then I don't feel that way at all.
The SW speaks and I'm completely disarmed. She's a lovely person who is here at the DF dealing with schizos like me who can't unball their fists. She left her office on a distant floor and stopped by my chemo-mainlining cubby to bring me a book about keeping children emotionally healthy during a parent's illness. She gives us some backpacks for the kiddos that include some Beanie Babies and magic markers. She also sits with us for quite a while and gives us some great advice on how to talk to the kids about what's going down. When I say "great advice," I mean "identical" advice to that of Amy (friend-who-happens-to-be-a-therapist), Tracy O (friend-who-happens-to-be-a-nurse, and Sarah D. (friend-who-happens-to-be-a-SW).
Aside: Granted, I'd kill for a SW like Sarah D. who would wheel your chemo IV onto the rooftop of the DF parking lot if you needed a little vitamin D (or something stronger).
Nevertheless, our SW assuages our guilt about being brutally honest and potentially frightening our kids about what's happening. Our reticence to do so is understandable; human, she says, as our primal instinct is to protect them from what's going on rather than to involve them in it.
Our SW also runs a support group for women under 40 who have the beast in the boob. I just told her I'm definitely going to attend and I'm certain James' jaw hit the floor at the fact that I don't have to be coaxed out from behind a filing cabinet to attend (or worse, join) a group activity.
I've come a long way in four weeks. I want to connect with people who are on this strange journey and/or have been. I have a rapidly growing list of people to talk to and I plan to call on all of them.
Aside II: Still not a phone person, however. Still rather email or meet face-to-face over a green tea or red wine.
Air Quotes and Divine Intervention
In speaking honestly to the kids, the SW sees a teaching moment at "a crucial stage in their emotional development," a chance to do something that will "lay the foundation for better emotional health down the line." I sense divine intervention. I can't believe I was about to fuck up my kids for life before they turned 5 and 6. I thought I'd had a few more years. The SW explains that they are totally egocentric right now at 4 and 5 and as long as their routines aren't disrupted and they feel secure within them, they won't be too affected.
The Advice, Broken Down
1. Use the words "breast cancer." First, the word "breast" makes me cringe. I don't even like saying it in a sentence: "I'm marinating a boneless chicken breast in some sesame ginger." Ew. I picture LPD (who shudders physically at the word herself) saying the word with her trademark emphasis: "Bwreast." A pursed half smile, her head cocked to the side, hell bent on grossing you out. It's not right.
2. Don't describe chemo as "medicine" because kids think medicine is supposed to make you feel well, not sick. Say "treatment." Say it will "make you tired."
3. Make it clear that you're "sad to lose your hair." While the kids will find it fun to cut your hair themselves and be involved in donating it to Locks of Love, they will be confused if you're somehow gleeful about baldness.
Aside III: Right now, I am not in the least bit sad about losing my hair. My roots are so offensive, I wish it'd all fall out right now so I could don my wig (which is quite fierce). Unfortunately, the wig won't be ready until next week due to the insane smallness of my head.
So, the convo went a little something like this: (I've bolded the "advised" words to show you what good students we are)
ME: The reason dad and I have been going into the city every day is I've got something called breast cancer that needs to be treated by a doctor.
(BTW, this statement has led to a daily question from Caroline: "Mama, how's your breast cancer doing today?" I say, "Great. It thinks it's disappearing.")
ME (con't): I have to have some treatments that are going to make me very tired and lose my hair.
CAROLINE: Like Papa!
ME: Sort of.
ME (con't) But it's only for a little while. My hair will grow back.
PAULIE: But poor Papa's hair isn't going to grow back!
ME: No, but Papa likes being bald. I will be sad to lose my hair, but it'll grow back.
CAROLINE: Will your hair be back by my birthday party? (April)
ME: Probably not, sweetie.
CAROLINE: That's ok, Mom, you can wear my Hannah Montana wig!
ME: Really? Thanks! (And I actually mean this. She's very anal with her things)
PAULIE: What about by my birthday party? (June)
ME: Yes, my hair will probably have started to grow back by then.
PAULIE: Cool. If not, you can wear my Chewbaccana mask. ("Chewbaccana" is how Paulie pronounces Chewbacca.)
ME: Awesome. Do you think I can pull off the Wookie Mullet look?
PAULIE (non-chalant): Oh yeah. Sure. Sure.