by Tanya Allan
Breakfast of champions, right? Shovel in some angry with your Weetabix? Delish. Whatever your story with a childhood cancer diagnosis (or any child being medically complicated for that matter), the one consistent emotion seems to be a bubbling rage kind of anger. I’m not saying this happens every minute of every day but you’re simply not human if a fiery anger isn’t part of your emotional repertoire when you have a medically complicated child. As parents what we often do is just swallow that fire down for breakfast, lunch and dinner because you can’t get into a much desired fist fight with ‘insert child’s diagnosis here’.
When our daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia there was a lot of angry and we were adrift with what to do with it. We knew what we were angry about but that rage seeped through our lives and the slightest thing would send us into a silent tantrum. We’re ever so polite so our angry didn’t often show in public but we were raging and we were not emotionally fit enough to process it. We had worked SO hard for a life where we both felt successful at work and were available for our children before and after school, my husband and I loved each and the kids actually liked each other and were happy and healthy and athletic. We were so ANGRY that this hard won work had been turned on its head when a chromosomal glitch dealt our family a hand we had no control over.
Anger happens when your rights are violated. The healthy response to a violated right is a discussion or system or heated argument to establish boundaries so the violation won’t occur again. If I’m swimming in the fast lane and I keep eating the bubbles of the swimmer in front – my right to an energetic swim has been violated. I can establish boundaries with a quick shoulder tap and suggestion that the swimmer may prefer the middle lane, we laugh together about it and we’re both on our way happily chasing the black line at our own pace. That’s such an easy analogy but a lot of anger can be rectified by establishing new boundaries. Identify the violation, discuss it like a reasonable human, and pinpoint a boundary to solve it.
Here’s the rub; childhood cancer won’t be negotiated with. It’s a terrorist with a long list of demands and you have a simple choice – accept the terms or rage against them. In my experience the best bet is a little bit of both because you can’t always be eating your angry for breakfast. In truth it has a bitter taste.
We all have different ways of accepting and of raging. Accepting to me is honestly feeling my legitimate pain at our daughter’s illness, her new limitations, and her uncertain future and letting it wash over me. I painfully accept that our son has had to learn a tolerance and understanding well beyond his years. I breathe deeply and I cry and I hold our children and ignore the dishes in the sink and the homework and my emails. For a few days I just sit in our sadness and my children’s pain and my grief.
I’m learning that rage takes many forms. Rage doesn’t have to be a debilitating targetless anger for me anymore. I can channel my rage into exercise, I can use my rage to be the best damned person I can be despite this sh*t show. I can use my rage to remember to support those struggling today, to drive myself to better our family life a little more where we can. Sometimes when the higher road isn’t available and I’m pretty sure no one is looking I have a private childlike tantrum of kicking and screaming and that often feels pretty cathartic.
For me the work of the Bravery Box is driven by a group of people who simply will NOT accept the fallout of childhood cancer as it is. What we do here is work to help a child feel rewarded braving it out through legitimately painful procedures and a legitimately difficult time in their lives. If a child in oncology can LOOK FORWARD to going to hospital because they can pick something from the Bravery Box then that’s a massive shift from rage to acceptance and a foundation for learning how to make that more often.
Watch this space - We are working towards putting together social / emotional programs to help teach bravery - a bravery gym. Bravery isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something we learn. How to take rage or fear or pain and put that aside and get the job done. These programs will be available for ALL children to purchase and as always we will fundraise so they are available to our Lady Cilento Oncology children free of charge.
Disclaimer: in the swimming analogy I was totally the slower swimmer.