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Friday, June 26, 2009

Support Group -- Before and After

Back-story: The third incarnation of our support group (for women living with metastatic disease) is a series of four five meetings with a psychologist who specializes in psycho-oncology and, within that field, specializes in dealing with children.

The group consists of nine women with cancer. The two women who facilitated the previous support group at Beit Natan are also attending the meetings, both to learn from the psychologist and to add to our support network. It is a very unique and incredibly warm and nurturing atmosphere.

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The second meeting of this support group was really the first meeting for me. I came so late to the first meeting, that I really did not feel part of it.

Since three new women also attended the second meeting for the first time, a significant portion of the meeting was again devoted to introductions.

Then we did an exercise comparing the behavior of one of our children before and after our diagnosis. I chose to concentrate on my youngest child, who is the quietest and perhaps the most affected by my cancer.

The discussion raised all sorts of issues, such as:
  • What are "normal" changes for a child that age?
  • How can we know how our cancer is affecting our child's development?
  • How does having cancer affect how we parent?
  • In what circumstances should cancer cause us to be more lenient? Or more strict?

The facilitator assured us that we will address these questions in future meetings.

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Later that week, my youngest daughter noticed a piece of paper on the table with her name on it. I glanced at the Hebrew in my handwriting and thought it must be my notes from our parent-teacher conference. I asked her not to read it on her own and told her that I would go over it with her another time.

A few minutes later, she asked me about something I had written. I realized the notes were what I had written in my support group. I chastised her for not following my instructions and explained that the paper contained notes that I had written for myself were meant to be private. Chagrined, my daughter apologized contritely.

I decided to transform her transgression into something positive. Explaining the context of the exercise, I suggested that she share differences that she noticed. At first, she mentioned, as she always does, that I am tired. Then she got more specific. She revealed that she no longer asks for help with her homework, since I am usually too tired to help her.

My heart fell when I realized she is not even asking for my help anymore. It hurt, but I appreciated her honesty. I took my daughter's face in my hands, looked directly in her eyes, and gently begged her to please keep asking for my help. I acknowledged the fact that I am often tired. Then I pointed out that there are also times when I am not tired and I am both able and happy to help her. I do not want either of us to miss out on those times.

Then she noted that when she was little I used to sit with her while she did all her homework while, more recently, I would only pay attention when she needed my help with specific problems. This, I pointed out right away, had nothing to do with cancer! As gently as I could, I explained that it is BORING to sit and watch her doing 100 math problems. Even if I did not have cancer, I would no longer be doing that! I emphasized that I am happy to help her with problems she cannot solve on her own. But, with or without cancer, I will not sit around doing nothing while is working independently on her homework. She can do that on her own.

Some changes do not have anything to do with cancer!

I think she got it.

A few minutes later, she turned to me, with a hesitant smile, and said that she also noticed a good change. My curiosity peaked. With a proud smile, she noted that she had become much more independent. How true! What a pleasure to elaborate on the many manifestations of her independence!

Among other things, I noted that she takes buses freely and confidently. She smiled at me with an impish grin and pointed out that "it is still nicer to be driven places..." We both laughed at that! She might be able to get around on her own, but she still prefers to be taken.

As with so many things, I felt torn by conflicting emotions: pride that she can take care of herself, sorrow that she has to take care of herself, joy that she still likes me to take care of her, and desire to continue taking care of her.

After enumerating her various accomplishments, I pointed out how proud I was of her attitude! She recognized, by herself, that she also benefited from this challenging situation.

My little girl possessed a depth of understanding that amazed and impressed me.

As our conversation drew to a close, I could not help but be grateful for the opportunity that had presented itself that afternoon. I received a gentle reminder that my daughter still needs my help. At the same time, I discovered that she is learning how to take care of herself. And, on top of that, I see that she is emotionally mature in ways that I would not have expected, particularly in her ability to see positive ramifications even in difficult circumstances.

I wanted to capture the moment and savor it.

(I guess I just have)

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,
RivkA

4 comments:

rickismom said...

tremendous. Good that she could see the good as well. But you probably get credit for that as well....

Melissa said...

What a beautiful moment.

In some strange way, maybe once in awhile, cancer can actually reward with gifts of love.

I'm praying for you.

Love Melissa

davidz said...

I pray for you every day; I'm a regular at Shacharit minyan now. Your kids are amazing. Yitz also demands attention explicitly, and lets me know when I'm ignoring him.

Love, David

muse said...

fantastic post
You're an amazing mother and person.