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Cancer is Crap: Blaming Cancer for the Holy Terror

By Leanne Coppen October 23 2017

February 8 2010, 5:34 PM

My daughter Georgia has lately morphed into a holy terror. I don’t just mean your ordinary, run-of-the-mill-tantrum-having holy terror (she mastered that shtick long ago) I mean Holy Terror.  Caps and italics.

Because I am her mother and will therefore always, always, give her the benefit of the doubt (“Well, Officer, there are any number of ways that smoking gun could have gotten into her hands…”) I attribute this recent transformation to her feeling out of sorts due to a nasty cold she picked up at daycare, and not to the emergence of a sociopathic personality.

Daycare is just another word for petri dish.  It’s inevitable that she will pick something up every once in a while and bring it on home to mama, which is not exactly ideal when I’ve got low white blood cell counts, but what can you do?  She’s not well, she feels miserable, and she needs to stay home till she stops oozing her little germs all over the place.

Luckily, I’m not afraid of a few germs.  No, what scares me is the pint-sized screaming banshee of a shape-shifting Holy Terror in my house, all smiles and cuddles one minute, all Evil Personified the next.  We don’t even need to put the alarm on at night – if someone were foolish enough to break in, we could just unleash the vicious little wolf-child on them.  We could tell her they were after her dolls or something and I promise you the burglars would run screaming from this place, never ever to return.

But because I am made of more resilient stuff than the average burglar, I refuse to be terrorized. Or, if I am to be terrorized, I refuse to bend to her will or cow before her wrath.  Yes, we go through daily cycles of distraction, negotiation (she usually reneges), reconciliation and several varieties of Mexican Stand-Off.  The tantrums flare up continuously, with little warning, and no sooner has peace been restored than another geyser blows.  It’s totally exhausting. Still, there are bright moments in the day, none brighter that when it eventually ends and we can both retire, somehow still full of love for each other, to our separate no-fire zones.

I gripe on and on about this for a reason:

a serious layer of guilt was attached to watching my little girl transform into a murderous beast over the past few days, and it stemmed from a fear that she might be manifesting insecurities caused by my illness.

I know that when kids feel sick they become miserable and/or crazy beings.  I know this, and I’ve lived through it 50 times over with Georgia… But I still wondered if her behavior was some kind of “acting out” related to my cancer. Could it be that she has been picking up on vibes of fear and anger and insecurity from us?  Is it possible that her behavior is a result of the stress put upon her by my illness?  In other words, I asked the question that mothers have been asking since the dawn of motherhood:

Is this my fault???

It doesn’t help that people around me (childless people, cancerless people) nod their heads sagely and say things like, “She’s probably picking up on what’s going on…” Meaning “She’s probably picking up that you have cancer and it’s totally messing her up.”

It also doesn’t help that for some reason with this cold, Georgia has flatly refused to take any medicine.  And when I say flatly refused I mean blood-curdling screams, gigantic tear-drops, and kicking like a shotgun.  (Two adults working in perfect tandem toward the same end purpose are still no match for a Holy Terror in a rage.)

So, I began to wonder about this new medicine-phobia too:

was she refusing to take medicine because of some kind of association with my treatment?

The thing is, she’s never seen me take medicine of any kind.  Well she has, obviously, but she always referred to my oral chemo tablets as my “bite-amins,” and we never corrected her. (She continues to happily take her own vitamins.  Apparently she only finds conventional medicines repellent.)  She has never accompanied me to an appointment in the hospital, never witnessed me hooked up to an IV or even a blood pressure cuff, and never seen me actually sick “because of” treatment.

“Oh, but kids just know…” some will say, nodding sagely. Really?  Because if she has no experience of medicine as it relates to my cancer treatment, how can she be internalizing it?

Other mothers and grandmothers, both those in treatment and those who are cancer-free, assure me that it’s pretty common for kids to go through stages of refusing medicine. Some kids are fine with taking medicine, and some freak out completely.  And of course most little kids morph into grumpy little miseries when they’re feeling sick. (Heck, most grown men do too.)

So this time I have decided I will unburden myself of the guilt. If, when this cold passes, the Holy Terror doesn’t morph back into normal run-of-the-mill-tantrum-having Georgia, I’ll try to figure out if there’s a link. If the refusal to take medicine continues to be a problem, I’ll get to the bottom of it. But for now, I’m going to write it all off to Georgia just being a three-and-a-half-year-old with a cold.

It’s still confusing for me, figuring out what’s normal and what’s related to the cancer, especially where Georgia is concerned. I have a hard time knowing where to draw the line between respecting that children have powerful instincts and intuition, and accepting the too-easy default of blaming things on cancer. I think that cancer just feels so big, so monumentally scary to most adults, that they just can’t imagine it wouldn’t be to blame.  But to me that somehow smacks of letting cancer win, giving it too much credit.  And if I assume cancer is to blame, when do I start taking responsibility for my problems?

Inevitably cancer is going to cause us some headaches quite outside of its menace to my health. And if (when) it turns out sometimes that things are amiss with Georgia as a result of me having cancer, I realize it doesn’t mean I have to feel guilty about it.  

But I probably will – isn’t that just what mothers do?