MIchael’s mom came to me wanting a story to help Michael, who is on the autism spectrum, understand his father’s cancer. His father lived in another state but communicated regularly by phone and letters, but as the cancer spread that communication was waning, and Michael was confused and sad. This is the first of a series of three stories I wrote for Michael, which helped him to understand the disease as well as other difficult concepts, including death and cremation.
Introducing Cancer: A Sickness That Might Not Get Better
My name is Michael and I’m 10 years old. I like to draw and play video games. I have a sister named Sylvia, who is 8. She loves to sing. I also have a brother; his name is Jackson. He doesn’t live with us, but he visits a lot.
My mommy lives with us and she takes good care of us. My daddy does not live with us. He lives in a hospital in New York.
A hospital is a place where people stay when they are sick. Being sick means that there is something wrong inside a person’s body that needs to be fixed. When a person is healthy, they feel good and can do all the things they want, like run and eat and play. When a person is sick, they might feel bad, or be very tired.
There are a lot of different kinds of sick. When Sophia and I catch a cold or have a fever, we are sick. Then we take medicine that Mommy buys at the store, and we get lots of rest, and pretty soon we feel better.
Sometimes when people are very sick, there isn’t any medicine at the store that can help them feel better, so they have to go to a hospital and let the doctors and nurses take care of them. Daddy has a sickness that needs doctors and special medicine to help him, and that’s why he lives at the hospital. His kind of sickness is a disease called cancer.
Cancer is a sickness that happens when some of the tiniest parts inside a person, called cells, are not normal. They grow very fast, and all those growing cancer cells create something called a tumor. A tumor is a big group of those bad cancer cells, all stuck together. When a person has cancer, the doctors take out the tumor and give the patient special medicine to try to get rid of all the cancer cells in the person’s body.
My Daddy has been taking this special medicine. The medicine is like a superhero inside his body, trying to kill all the bad cancer cells. The medicine can make him very tired, sometimes even too tired to talk. But even when he is tired and sick, he loves me and Sophia so much. Even if his body is weak, his love is very strong.
You can’t “catch” cancer from someone, like you can catch a cold by sharing a drink with someone who already has a cold.
It’s OK to feel sad because I miss Daddy and I wish he was here with us. I also wish he wasn’t sick. I know that he didn’t get cancer because he is bad or because he did something wrong. People who get cancer are good, and they are very strong because it takes a lot of strength to fight cancer.
A lot of times when someone has cancer, the special medicine will help them get better. Then doctors say they are “cured” of cancer. That means all the cancer cells are gone from their body, and they are healthy again.
But cancer cells are very tiny, and they grow very fast. Sometimes the special medicine has a hard time killing all of the cancer cells. Sometimes a person with cancer might not get better. Then they might die.
Every living thing is born, and lives for awhile, and then dies. Most of the time, people and animals only die when they are very old and have lived a long time. Our dog Molly died when she was very old and had lived a long time. Her body got tired and worn out, and she was too old to live anymore.
But sometimes something happens that can make a person die even though they aren’t old yet. When a person has cancer, sometimes their body gets worn out and tired from fighting the cancer cells, and they die.
When a person dies, their family is sad, because they won’t get to see the person anymore. Thinking about Daddy being sick makes me sad, and that’s OK. When I’m sad, or when I’m worried about Daddy, I talk to Mommy about how I feel.
I wish we could see Daddy and be near him. I know that he thinks about us all the time, and we write letters to each other. That makes Daddy feel good, and it makes me feel good, too. Daddy is a great artist, and I love the pictures he draws for us. When I miss Daddy, I write him a letter. I also read the letters he has written to me, and that makes me feel closer to him.
I hope Daddy gets better. But if Daddy doesn’t get better, I know that it isn’t his fault. And it isn’t my fault either, or Sylvia’s, or anybody’s fault. It’s cancer’s fault. I know that he loves us. Even if the superhero medicine can’t kill all of Daddy’s cancer cells, he is still my hero.
© Robyn Passante, 2013