From a Child's Point of View

bill_vincentMarch 11, 2009

I got this in my email this morning, and thought there might very well be some in here in a situation, or KNOW someone in a situation where they might benefit from reading this story, as told through the eyes of a 13 year old boy whose father was dying of cancer. It's pretty tough:

It was just another day in middle school -- joking around, making fun of kids, and disrupting classes. Math was the last one of the day and most kids found it to be a joke because the teacher had no control over our behavior and we exploited that.

In the middle of class, my friend Sam handed me a letter with my name on it. I was certain I was in trouble -- again. That was my daily routine: getting a letter from one of my teachers, being sent to the office, getting detention or even suspended.

The letter was written by my mother, informing the teacher that my father had cancer and to please be more lenient with me in class. I raced out of the classroom, crying. All of the kids thought I was trying to disrupt things, as usual, and my teacher came running after me, yelling for me to come back.

He caught me in the hallway and told me to calm down. I told him what the letter said and I asked him if he had read it too. He reluctantly said yes and kindly offered to take me to the office, where my mother was waiting to pick me up.

I was anxious the rest of the day as I waited for my father to show up. Finally, in the evening, he arrived in his black Volkswagen Beetle, surprised to find me waiting for him in front of my mom's apartment building.

For the next hour, we discussed how to go about things, but I didn't feel like much of a participant. The conversation was more at me than with me. My parents were doing their best to relieve my stress, but every word they spoke corresponded with cancer. They asked me if I had any questions but I was too numb to say a word. That single hour was the most serious, real moment I had ever spent in my thirteen-year-old life.

After that, everything changed.

As my father's sickness became a lifestyle, it affected my average day. I would leave school but not find him there to pick me up. I would call to play catch or go for a drive, but he would be too tired. I would go days without seeing him. If I brought up cancer, he would shut down, and if I brought up an interesting topic, he would loosely listen. Our bonding time turned into questions about his possible death, which irritated and scared him. So, we did mindless activities, like watching TV.

One night, at my mom's house, I found out that his cancer had spread to the brain. I immediately ran outside in my shorts even though it was snowy. I had to find my dad and hold him. I ran to his apartment and he was surprised to see me. He acted as if nothing was wrong, and I asked him if the illness had really gotten worse. He told me he was feeling fine, but I knew how sick he was. Days later, his illness became more obvious as he began slurring his words. He had headaches and he was irritable all the time.

Every night before I got in bed I would ask my mom if my dad's condition was "in the status quo." One night, she told me the cancer had spread to his liver. I just cried all night.

Focusing was pretty tough during school. I left class frequently just to think. While my dad was dying, everything I did seemed like it might not last. My father's health seemed short term and my relationship with him was too.

On the day my dad died, my mom came to school and told me it was time. I went to his apartment and watched a man in a bed waiting to die, a man named George who seemed like someone I'd never met before. No one knows if he accepted his death, but my eyes saw a man who was ready.

When it was finally over, I didn't really know how to feel. I was in a state of shock, but mostly I was ready for a new beginning. I was sad, but I was also happy. I was glad my father was out of pain.

I didn't have to deal with the stress of him dying anymore. But, unfortunately, when every single person shared their condolences all it did was make me think about him.

Looking back, I think one of the most depressing days was when we saw our last movie together. I woke up that day knowing it would be the last one. He was getting too skinny and too tired, and he was ready to die. That morning, my mother and I dragged him out of his apartment and took a taxi to the theater.

Constantine was about the devil and death, and made sharing the last movie with my dad very awkward. Most of all, it was sad. Imagine having to say goodbye to your dad for like, forever. The whole time I was just trying to make conversation to get my mind off him dying. But he didn't feel like talking.

He was just dying.

The way I am now is confusing. There are some things that I can't think about or I will cry.

Thinking about the year that he had cancer mostly does it for me. Sometimes, I see father-son relationships on TV or in the movies and I get pretty sad. However, on a typical day I barely think about him. I do have fears that other loved ones will become ill and I will have to deal with the same process all over again. I also fear that my mother will die and I will have no parents.

Sometimes, I blame things in my life on my dad's passing from cancer. But right now, that whole thing was a brief period in my life that I never want to think about.

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here's another one in a more positive light, if only because they MAKE it positive. God bless them!

"Who wants to share what they wished for?" Lam asks.

Every arm in the roomful of children flies up. Support Director Gary Lam points to Andrew, a cherubic six-year-old boy with curly brown hair.

"Swimming with the dolphins!" Andrew calls out, beaming.

Several dozen other campers bounce up and down, eager to share similar experiences.
"Meeting Mickey," cries Jordan.

"I got a shopping spree in a toy store!" says Kendall.

After each wish is revealed, moans of envy echo around the room.

"What other good things have happened because you have cancer?"

An older boy across the circle, about eleven years old, raises his hand.

"Being sick has brought my family closer together. We spend way more time now doing fun stuff."

"If I never went to Children's Hospital," a nine-year-old girl, wearing a pink bandana to cover her bald head, says next, "I never woulda met my best friend!" She squeezes the hand of the pig-tailed girl in a matching bandana, seated next to her.

"I have a new appreciation for life," says Jake, a counselor and former camper, now in his early twenties. "I've crammed more experiences into the last five years than most people have in their lifetime."

Jake is not only the guitar-playing comedian all the campers worship. He's also survived the same battle they are currently fighting.

Lam nods appreciatively. "What would you say is the best thing about cancer?"

Every hand flies up into the air again and Matthew, a mischievous ten-year-old with shaggy blond hair, is chosen. He smirks, and announces proudly, "The best part is getting to look Cancer in the face and say Ha Ha. Beat You!'" Everyone laughs.

Seven-year-old Ella, who has been waving her arm frantically for the past few minutes, can't contain herself a moment longer. "The best part about cancer is getting to come to camp!" she squeals, before clamping a hand over her mouth sheepishly.

Ella is referring to Camp Goodtimes - a pediatric oncology camp nestled in the University of British Columbia Research Forest in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. It could easily rival Disneyland for the title of "Happiest Place on Earth."

My first encounter with Camp Goodtimes came four years ago after reading a story in Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul, which inspired me to go see the magic for myself. I've been changed ever since.

The feather-light little girl snuggled on my lap shifts her weight slightly and jars my attention back to the room. Dani has been listening intently to the discussion going on around her without actively participating. It's hard to believe this sweet girl is the same sad, sick-looking child who stormed into my cabin on the first day, furious with the world, and anything but a happy camper.

"The sickest kid in camp," a fellow volunteer had warned me. "So let's not let it stop her from having the time of her life." Dani had barely spoken a word the first few days but was silently soaking it all in, and soon began thriving.

Gary Lam circles the room, handing each child a small square of paper and instructing them to write down or draw a picture of something that brings a smile to their face.

Dani furrows her eyebrows and sucks on the end of her marker; then she flops on her tummy and swaps the marker for a pink crayon, and begins printing letters carefully.

"Do you need help thinking of something?" I whisper nervously.

The poor kid has been through so much in the past year, battling treatments and brain surgeries. What could she possibly have to smile about?

She shakes her head at me impatiently, as I'm obviously interrupting her thoughts.

I glance around the circle at Andrew, Ella, Matthew, and all the other new members of my extended camp family. It's going to be heartbreaking to say goodbye in a matter of days. As magical as these precious weeks of summer are, the frustrating part is leaving this enchanted forest behind and returning to reality, where well-meaning friends just don't realize that the cure rate for childhood cancer is actually quite high and that many of the campers will survive and return as counselors.

"You must have had the most depressing time with all those dying kids."

I reflect on the summer's activities. Kayaking through the early morning mist. Baking cookies in our pajamas. Water fights of epic proportions. Breaking into spontaneous song and dance whenever the desire struck.

"Now it's time to share our smiles with the rest of the world," Gary informs the kids. My campers follow me down a gravel path to the lake, holding hands and clutching strings with dozens of balloons dancing in the breeze and bonking our heads with rubbery thuds.
We kneel on the creaky dock and begin the countdown:

Dozens of balloons with paper messages attached dancing in the breeze and bonking our heads we release the balloons - and our optimistic thoughts - up into the sky and out into the universe, watching as they slowly float up, up and away.

"Blow!" Gary yells.

We huff and puff and watch the colorful spheres as they finally disappear from sight. As I survey the young crowd craning their necks for a final glimpse, I marvel at Gary's ability to take a bunch of sick kids and turn a discussion of childhood cancer into such a positive experience. No one was thinking of the hard times. No one was wondering who would be back next summer and who wouldn't.

Dani glances up at me and grins. Just moments earlier, before she had carefully folded her paper in half, sealing her message inside, she'd quickly flashed the paper open to give me a peek.
In bold pink writing, her message simply said: "I Smile Because I'm Alive."

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 9:50AM
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Those were nice stories. Makes me grateful for what I have and want to do something better for others who are sick.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 10:27PM
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