Upon hearing the news of his son’s cancer diagnosis, my heart immediately went out to this man I have never met and likely never will. Obviously, I hurt for his entire family. But as a father who has also heard the dreaded words, “your child has cancer,” I can identify more with Noah’s Daddy and the cries of utter helplessness pounding a discordant melody inside his weary mind.
Quite frankly, this is awful and I don’t wish it on anyone, famous or otherwise. There are things he is in the process of discovering that no man should be forced to learn – yet his education is being forged in the pristine environment of a hospital and it can’t be stopped. He can’t withdraw from school, clep out of an exam, or skip this grade. There is no syllabus and the lectures can change violently at a moment’s notice. This is not a bunny class… basket-weaving 101. No, this is AP post-graduate work – a trial by fire where no grades are curved and no group study is allowed. Sharpen your pencil and take your seat, this class is the hardest that the School of Life has to offer.
If I were able to shove a note of encouragement and advice into his backpack, here are some things I would share from when I was forced to enroll in the course:
Hope is a verb and an active one, at that. You, as dad, have to kindle hope and keep it burning – DAILY! Mom is too busy and your children desperately need you to model positivity. So build your hope on whatever you can and keep fanning the flame. Friends and family will look to you in this time and feed off of your attitude.
Exams are coming quickly. Decisions will have to be made at lightning speed with only the limited information you have at the time. When forced to put your pencil down, don’t look back.
Your son is tougher than that nasty marine wannabe who yelled at you during middle school PE. He is going to experience pain and hard times, but will rise to every occasion and he will find joy in the oddest and hardest of places. You will see a remarkable side of him that you could never have expected.
Your wife is amazing. You knew that. You knew it before you married her and you have seen it in the way she mothers her children. But you are soon to see her go days without sleep, live in constant worry, cry more tears than you thought she could produce, and confront obstacles all while pouring insane amounts of love over you and your children. Tell her now and every chance you get that she is incredible and you are lucky to breath the same air she does.
Children do win these battles. In fact, the statistics are overwhelmingly positive for them. Though fear is your new and constant companion, know that there are many survivors out there. Cling fast to whatever winning percentage your doctors shared with you in the stuffy consultation room.
Speaking of doctors, they, the nurses, and hospital staff who will care for Noah are very special people. You will realize this at 3 am one night when he wants six yellow M&M’s and some nurse makes it her life’s mission to find and sort them for him.
As a society, we don’t value our children like we say we do on all of our propaganda. The treatment your son is receiving is decades old and the funding to find a cure is dreadfully inadequate. It isn’t fair for these innocent lambs who look to us for protection. But fair isn’t a word used in this curriculum.
Planning is relatively worthless now. It’s like trying to study as the teacher is passing out the exam – futile. Your life will run ten minutes at a time and is based on how Noah feels and how his treatment is progressing. You just won the last ten minutes, now go fight for the next ten and repeat until this nightmare is over.
Don’t worry, new kid. Regardless of their economic means, social standing, race, ethnicity, or any other category that society uses to divide, your classmates won’t give you a wedgie or shove you in a locker. Canadian? Even that’s okay. Cancer does not discriminate and neither do your fellow suffering parents. They will guide you, council you, and hold you when you just need a quiet friend. You have joined the worst club filled with the best people imaginable.
Get ready for tears and regardless of what you’ve been taught about them thus far, you don’t lose manpoints for crying anymore.
“No” is an acceptable word. Your primary goal in life is the well-being of your family and you should feel free to separate yourself from those who don’t respect your no. In fact, you have the right to distance yourself from anyone for any reason at all. This is your battle and you don’t have to explain the way you choose to fight.
Finally, you are about to see the world at its best – a light in this present darkness. There is an unbelievable amount of good out there. People you have never met or heard of will come out of the woodwork to support you and you will be amazed at just how many people lovingly care for your family and your son. No one has to fight this battle alone.
Class is now in session
Fight well, love fiercely, and steal joy wherever it can be found. You are in my thoughts and prayers.