11 February 2009

The Schizo and the SW

MONDAY, Feb 2, DF 10
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.


Anonymous said...

To Kate, your a friend I don't even know anymore but I hope your the same. I always remember singing the beatles with you. ^I love you when you're happy,I love you when you're blue.I love you when you're mad at me in Dorchester.^
Love, Kevin D.

Roving Lemon said...

Hmmm, interesting. I agree that some of that advice is totally counter-intuitive to parental instinct, but judging by your account of the conversation, it all seems to have gone pretty smoothly.

And, of course, now I'm going to have nightmares about you in a Hannah Montana wig.


Bean Down Under said...

KJ - Congratulations! Doing that, I could only imagine, was stressing you out big time. Love the Star Wars reference. Not sure because Star Wars was one of my favorite childhood memories or just because 30+ yrs later the force is still interesting to kids! Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Good Stuff. Glad to know i was not too far off the mark.

And fear not, there will NEVER be a day that I will have anything resembling Chanel, waxed eyebrows or manicured nails anywhere near me. No oblivious organization going on here! Not even a little bit! =)

Carry on my friend. You continue to inspire.


KT said...

Oh, Star Wars is not only interesting, it is an ongoing OBSESSION amongst 2nd graders - namely, mine. D Minor has a book, "Obsessed with Star Wars:2500(extremely obscure) Questions" and he generally scores above 85%. It's a bit bizarre. Especially since Daddy is now known as Mace Windu and Ellie actually thinks she was Padme Amadala in another life.

I'm voting for the Princess Leia wig!! Two DD coffee rolls and a string oughta do the trick. Then, if you're hungry.... Oh wait, I'm guessing their not on the diet.

Seriously though, great job masking your understandable angst from the wee brown ones. They will get through this just fine and will realize your amazing strength and courage when they're older. Bravo, Mamacita! XO!

bg said...

I hate "LOL", but I am really laughing out loud reading the transcript of the convo with Caroline and Paulie. Those 2 crack me up. I'm shocked, but I'm not shocked about how they reacted to the situation. Great job Kate/James.

sarah_derby said...

WOW. I always like to have interactions with my kids that leave me thinking "when (as with at least one of my kids, it is a WHEN) you are on a couch somewhere, being asked about your childhood, you CANNOT blame me for this one." You have handled this with incredible honesty and humor, as you seem to be handling this entire journey.

And for the record, I would wheel you and your chemo-sabie anywhere babe. I just can't believe the social worker wasn't wearing Dansko clogs. Thought is was a pre-requisite.

Linda said...

Okay, so... a) not all of us social workers are fashion backward - but many, many shame me daily with their Berks and wool socks and unbelievably dry, unruly hair (how can hair that has never seen dye in it's life be so damaged???). Christ on his throne...

And b) you've raised a couple of phenomenal kids to get responses like that, complete with Star Wars references to boot (I love your son already). You have to love the complete self centeredness of kids that age. Makes all our jobs if not easier, certainly more predictable. Their resiliency is a major reason why I work with 'em.

Love to you all,

PS - I'm sending some yucks your way this week.

Bob said...

I LOVE Hannah Montana.
You could do worse.


Anonymous said...

Kitty -
Congratulation! Fine job Miss Kit Kat. They are amazing and they will keep you going through this beastly journey. More crafts coming to my little pals. I am thinking an Easter theme this time!
KC aka Goy

KT said...

E-Gad!! I just realized I used "their" in my comment when I should have used "they're"! Grammar misuse is one of my major pet peeves and I apologize to all who were subjected to my unintentional type-o.

And KJ, if you DO decide to sport the Chewbaccana mullet, you must post pictures! We could have a whole wig series, "The Many Moods of Kate Jackson". What an opportunity.

Paula said...


I will pay cash money to your favorite charity to see a pic of the chewbacana mullet... Your kids are amazing! You and James should feel quite proud...of them and of yourselves for doing such a wonderful job..

Keep up the good work!!!

lpd said...

"Bwwwwwweast..." eeeeeeeewwwwww.

Keepin' it real with the Wee Brown Jackson kiddies. Well done. They have great capacity for love and understanding, which they get from their mom & dad. They'll be sure you get through this with flying colors...and Hannah Montana wigs and Chewbacana masks to boot.