Sunday, November 17, 2013


Matt often says "Ginger's a worrier." It's true. And I suppose the translation is that I'm anxious. It isn't a crippling anxiety, but it is pervasive. Running has helped to temper it.

My youngest son was 15 months when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer. He was an easy baby. We had even characterized him as "our easy child." I realize that probably wasn't fair to him or to our daughter. Yes, he was pretty easy as a baby, but parents and teachers should be cautious when categorizing and labeling children. Labels can become self-fulfilling prophecies - the problem child misbehaves because that's what they do, the well-behaved child suppresses emotions to fit the expected behavior only to take it out in other ways later.

But we are human and as humans we do categorize and label to make sense of our world. And until our daughter was diagnosed with cancer, she was the challenge (a spirited, red-headed three year old who refused to wear any clothes with buttons and who rolled her eyes when adults teased her) and our son was the easy child.

Cancer didn't immediately change things. Sure, our son could only stay in the hospital room about an hour on any given day because IV poles might go down like timber, but I said he was easy, not comatose. What 15 month old is going to want to check out the beeps of an EKG monitor, the buttons on an infusion pump, the inflating and deflating cuff on a blood pressure machine? And there were times when our one room "home" at the Ronald McDonald house was too confining for our happy toddler. But mostly he continued to be easy until we returned how, chemo over, our daughter in remission.

Somewhere around 2 years, he started resisting separation from me. At the time, I thought it was simply an age-appropriate behavior. Maybe it was. But whatever the case, he started crying when I left for work, resisting going to my mom, who had previously been his second favorite person in the world, and generally wanting to be held by me whenever I was close.

I don't remember all of the details of this, but I can safely say when we tried to put him in "2 day twos" (a small and nurturing preschool that our daughter was attending) it was a disaster. Matt was a "stay at home" and finally decided it wasn't worth the trauma.

The same thing happened when we tried three year old preschool, but at this point we had moved and had no neighborhood kid friends, so we pushed the issue. He was in an Arts based preschool that focused on development through play and creativity. Ultimately I think this was a positive move for our little boy, but the separation each morning was a challenge. It was worst when I took him, but he often cried if his sitter drove as well.

After a year of gradual improvement, I thought four year old preschool would be different. After all, he was getting older. Nope. We had the exact same setbacks, the exact same struggles to transition away from home and into school.

Then kindergarten.

Then first grade.

And now, 5 years post-cancer, my mom points out that maybe our little guy is carrying around post-cancer stress and anxiety. He's a "thinker" she says. (Sounds a lot like his mom, the "worrier", doesn't it?)

It hits me like a ton of bricks. How had this not occurred to me? He has always been more anxious about being sick, or about cuts or bruises or other blemishes than my daughter. "Mom, is it serious? Is it going to be okay?" He hates separation from me, when I leave for work or when he leaves for school there are tears or angry outbursts. He is very conscientious and worries if he leaves his homework at home or if he makes a mistake in his schoolwork.

Maybe this is who he is. Maybe this is unrelated to cancer. Or, maybe he is carrying around extra anxiety. After all, he watched cancer from the sidelines, helpless, not in the driver's seat like his sister. Maybe there is something to that.

I don't have a solution. I write about this not because I am certain that cancer is to blame, but because I'm so very uncertain. I write about this because siblings, often ignored in the battle against cancer, need as much if not more attention as their sick brothers or sisters.