When Chris was diagnosed, I started searching for a support group for the boys. Not many kids their age have experience with losing a parent to cancer, and I wanted them to have a relationship with a group of kids (and adults) in case they needed it. Relationships take time to build and I wanted to make sure that we had supports in place for when they were needed.
In December, 2009 the boys and I attended CLIMB (Children Living In Moments of Bravery) at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. CLIMB is funded by The Children’s Treehouse Foundation. One night each week, for four weeks, I drove us to the hospital for dinner and support. It was a good group, although only a few families came to more than one session. The food was great (the boys looked forward to dinner) and the kids met with psychologists, social workers and nurses. They made things that represented how they felt about having a parent with cancer, they talked, and they got to visit the oncology department when no one was there. Visiting the oncology department meant that they got to see where the nurses administered chemo and they got a demonstration of what getting chemo entailed. It was all kid friendly and answered a number of questions the boys had about treatment.
My boys weren’t into the “artsy” part of CLIMB. But that seemed to be ok. They went happily (I think dinner was a big part of the going happily – they got to have soda) and they were able to start managing their feelings about Chris’ cancer.
While the kids were talking and creating, the adults joined two social workers to discuss issues related to the cancer diagnosis. Chris didn’t want to attend (and was exhausted from chemo), so I went alone with the boys. I was the only “caregiver” that was there without their spouse.
We had some very honest conversations during this time. We talked about our fears for ourselves, our spouses and our kids. We talked about guilt and burnout. We discussed medical bills and life insurance. And we talked about end-of-life issues. We laughed and, quite often, we cried. The best part of this group was that I felt supported. It didn’t matter what I said, these were people who understood and were traveling similar paths.
When the group ended, several of us continued to get together. And then we stopped. It was tough because my boys were the oldest and the only boys (besides babies). They didn’t really want to go. It was also sometimes strange because I had more in common with the men (the “caregivers”) than the women who were battling cancer. While the women understood each other, and they could relate to what I was feeling and going through, I couldn’t totally get what they were battling. However, I have no doubt that it was time well-spent and that it was needed by me and the boys at the time.
One of the things that I worried about (and still do to a certain extent) is self-sufficiency. I can fix a number of things. I can read and follow directions. I can put together kids toys and furniture. All of these things I can do and feel pretty confident. However, when it comes to my van, I’m lost. We found a good mechanic, and I trust them, so that helps. But I’ve never changed a headlight. And at the time, I could not, no matter how I tried, change the rear wiper blade on the van. I read the directions. I read the directions out loud. The boys tried to help, and they couldn’t figure it out either.
It was cold and Chris was feeling icky. Chemo was taking a lot out of him and I knew that he didn’t have the patience to teach me to do it myself. I’m sure that he would have done it for me, had I asked. But I didn’t want him to do it for me, I wanted to be able to do it myself.
Thankfully, we were getting together with the families we met from CLIMB. Before we left, I asked one of the husbands (thanks Z.Z.) if he could help me and teach me how to change the wiper blade. I told him I didn’t want him to do it for me. I wanted to know how to do it myself. It only took him a few minutes. There was a key part that I was not understanding from the directions and therefore, was not getting it in the right place. Once he showed me, it made sense. And it wasn’t difficult. But to me it was huge. I was able to do it without help the next time I needed to change the wiper blade.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but at the time it helped me cope. I think that is what CLIMB did for the boys. And when CLIMB was over, we went searching for another support group.
We found Kids Alive at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver. I’ll talk about Kids Alive in Part 2.