Blaming Cancer for the Holy Terror

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?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Blaming Cancer for the Holy Terror

  1. Gwen

    Oh, Leanne! I feel for you. You are right – the fact that Georgia is not feeling well probably plays a big role in her current behaviour. Do you think her determination not to take medicine may be linked with her “age and stage” i.e. as a normal 3 and a half year old, she wants to exert a bit of independence? As far as her melt-downs having anything to do with your illness: you mentioned a children’s cancer support group a while back. Might you get some help from them, perhaps? Play therapy and art therapy can be useful tools in uncovering what is bothering young children, and then helping them to deal with whatever it is. I hope, as Georgia feels better and gets over her bug(s), that she’ll revert to your loving, biddable child, so that you can get through the rest of February in a peaceful environment!

  2. Linda

    Dear Leanne,
    Last night i spent almost an hour trying to get my three & a half year old to take her atibiotics. I tried negociating, bribing and when i was out of better solutions ended up forcing it in her mouth…..then she spat it all out at me !!! While I went to wash my sticky face my husband took over, first calmed her down, then started new negociations but he too ended up forcing it down…. luckily him she didn’t spit that time.
    Probably not recommended by childcare books but that’s how it works in my home for now…..the joys of parenthood ☺
    Some kids just don’t like medicine !!!
    Hope she gets better quickly!
    Love,
    Linda

  3. Jodi Lastman

    I’ve been there. Only success I’ve had are with ‘melt away’ medicine followed by smarties.

  4. Eva

    Leanne, Dear, please do no feel guilty, do not blame yourself!Georgina is miserable,because she feel the cold and the misery with it. And she does not want to take the medicins!Try to listen to quiet music, or as someone wisely recommended “art therapy”,tell her interesting fairy tails (before she starts!)do any possibly things to have her attention!Sometimes the very quiet talking to her (even if she seemingly does not pay attention) could help.
    Just do NOT blame yourself!She is just a sick kid!It does not help you, and hence does not help her either!
    And do not forget: even a flu used to have an end!Return to your sense of humor, even if it is difficult!I hope Georgina will be better soon and so will be you! Love Eva

  5. Duckie

    Her behaviour sounds all too normal to me, as does your associated mother’s guilt!

  6. Celia McBride

    It takes great courage to look at the root of something like this. Often, a duck is just a duck but sometimes there is something deeper asking to be seen. It’s not about placing blame, it’s about being willing to look at it. Good for you, Leanne! If your instincts are telling you do go deeper, trust that. Love you.

  7. Georg W.

    Hi to my favourite astronaut Leanne, am hoping to hear you and Georgia are feeling better.

    Georgia may have never seen you take chemo, but all little and big children have ears. You may think they are playing as the grown-ups talk to each other, hearing the words like chemo, medications, pills and liquids. And as these words are spoken, we also say we hope this works this time and helps you feel better.

    Then they see the side effects, ie hair loss. In their small and ever growing minds, they put two and two together the only way children can understand, pills or liquids made mommy lose her hair.

    Then we tell them when they become sick this pill or liquid will make them feel better, I think you see where I am going with this.

    As for blame there should be none, because there is no one to blame.

    Love always Georg and Deborah

  8. Leanne

    Well all of this commiseration and support did go a long way to allevieating the mother-guilt, so thanks everyone. And thanks too for the suggestions about how to trick G into taking her medicine …it is so funny to imagine parents the world over resorting to all manner of sleight-of-hand just so we can save these tiny tyrants from their own stubborness!
    Georgia’s cold is over and the meltdowns have subsided (not disappeared completely of course) so we are all feeling much better these days. I’m still watching for a connection between my illness and Georgia’s behaviour, as I’m sure there will be times when she’ll process some of the stuff she doesn’t understand in her own way. We’ll deal with that as it arises. For now I just think she’s acting like a 3-year-old. A three year-old who is as impatient as her father and as stubborn as her mother — in other words, a walking recipe for meltdowns!
    THANKS everyone.
    l.

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