childhood cancer

There was fear, when they told her it was cancer. But also a young boldness that everything would be ok.

Lee and her two sisters sat still on the couch, sandwiched between their parents, not knowing what to say or how to react.

Then May started crying.

Mom got up to comfort May, to tell her that it was good that they caught it early, and the doctors were already working on what to do. Mom and Dad were getting second opinions, things might be OK.

Horizontal black bangs, and a shrimpy size of the second shortest in the class, the things Lee cared about when she was ten were simple. It was September, and she had just begun fifth grade. She loved playing with her dog, play dates with friends, and drawing with chalk on the front driveway.

She had an easy, sheltered life.

So when the bombshell of cancer invaded her small world, she didn’t know how to take it.

She felt like she should be more sad. Why didn’t she cry when she heard the news like May?

This was DAD after all. Mom said he was too young to have cancer. Lee didn’t really understand what that meant. She didn’t really understand cancer. No one was telling her how to feel, or what to do about it.

It seemed like Dad was becoming a superhero. He took time off of work and picked Lee and her sisters up from school more often now. He worked on things around the house on the weekends and went running in the mornings and biking in the afternoon. During the day, he didn’t stop moving. He built a new vegetable box for Grandma in the backyard and had Lee and May carry bags of dirt in with him to dump.

He didn’t seem scared.

In class one day, a girl said a joke.

What did one unemployed cancer say to the other?
…Let’s get Jobs!

Lee didn’t get it.

My dad has cancer!

She said to everyone.

The teacher pulled her aside.

Prostate cancer.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t something that Lee or her sisters had to worry about getting, according to Mom.

Dad and I were the youngest couple at the support group yesterday

Mom said over cereal the next morning.

She said it with a laugh, as if she was retelling the plot of Modern Family last night.

It was odd to hear Mom laugh about Dad’s cancer. But slightly comforting too, to see that it didn’t just have to be a sad thing.

 

The day Dad had his operation, Lee and her sisters got to stay home from school. His surgery was early in the morning, and the girls all got up with sleepy eyes and slippered toes to hug him and wish him luck. He’d be done by noon.

Dad came home and went straight to bed, drugged and drowsy. He was home and he was OK.

A little while later, Dad got the results of his tumor. The doctors supposedly got all the cancer out, and he wouldn’t have to do chemo. He would,

…Keep whatever little hair he has left!

Mom joked.

 

That was good news.

 

 

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LAUP stories_004 | inside the house of a stranger i know

this summer, i participated in a six-week mission trip called the los angeles urban project, or LAUP.

LAUP is partnered with intervarsity christian fellowship, and sends college students and recent grads all around los angeles to live with and work with the urban poor.

my team was placed in west long beach.

we worked with fountain of life covenant church’s family center, tutoring k-12 kids.

this is the story of them.

monday, 31 july 2017

after four weeks of tutoring, playing and growing friendships with our kiddos, it was time to say goodbye.

today was our last day on site. we were to clean the family center, and make house visits to our students and drop off photos from our vbs week.

for most of the house visits, we went in groups of three or more; always traveling with our director, who could translate and converse choppy spanish with our non-english speaking families.

i thought i would spend most of my day cleaning. but i ended up going to every house, and visiting some 10 families.

each household gave us water or snack and sat down to talk, even if there was a language barrier.

the intimacy of entering into someone’s house for the first time was huge, and it was too big for me to fully appreciate what was going on in the moment.

most of the time, i let the people around me talk. i kind of just sat and nodded, smiled and laughed, fit into the group that i was with.

there was something about filling in gaps of the stories of the kids i had just barely gotten to know over the four weeks that caught me off guard.

it wasn’t quite gratitude, gratefulness, appreciation…

it was judgement.

i found that i was judging most of the houses and the families inside.

i know it’s not fair, but i did it anyways, instinctually.
my mind crept there, almost naturally,
my heart hard to receive the things these people were letting me into.

the first house we entered was quite a scene. it belonged to a little boy i had been working with all summer, david.

on a small patchy front lawn sat a shopping cart and a stroller, both filled with stuff. inside, the musky living room was taken over by a baby in a crib, napping while spongebob played on the tv above him. the shelves were crammed with toys and random junky trinkets. david invited us in with hugs, and then reclined on the couch to stare at videos on a tablet. his little sister sprawled on the ground, playing with tiny toys and scribbling into a cartoon coloring book.

we all took a seat on the couch as abuela entered the room. she stood in the doorway and began to apologize to us in broken english.

she was sorry that david didn’t come to tutoring more often, that he skipped the last day, that she had too much on her plate to always remember him.

outwardly, i accepted her apologies.

inwardly, i started blaming.

this is why he wasn’t learning… he watches tv all day, he stares at a screen, his family can’t read to him, they don’t care about tutoring.

this summer with david was not easy. he had been held back in first grade twice already, mainly due to his difficulties with reading.

my posture changes slightly as abuela shares about her life.

it’s not easy.

she takes care of up to 10 grandkids at a time, in her tiny house, which, if i’ve learned anything from managing just 7 third graders, is not easy.

she does this all on her own, and works, too; a caretaker for the elderly, which, is not easy.

my thoughts are put on pause, judgements halted.

my head understands how difficult her life is, but it doesn’t know how to sympathize.

i know that i am wrong in my judgements.
of course i am.

but it took a while for it to really sink in.

for me to find exactly what judgements i was placing where.

i float through the rest of the day listening to these stories, never really adjusting or feeling comfortable in anyone’s house.

the next day i told all this to kim.

on a walk along the dry reservoir bed of the la river bike path, i told her about how i felt entering into these houses and stepping deeper into the lives of abuela, our students, and people i had barely interacted with over the weeks.

and it was rather revealing and freeing to voice those harbored thoughts.

my heart was hard to receive, but after releasing my thoughts, a little bit of the stone covering chipped away.

i needed to voice everything, my preconceived notions on immigrants, on uneducated kids and people, on what a house should look like, on kids whose parents are not present. my judgements on the things i do not see, because that is how i begin to break apathy.

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this is the fourth piece in a series of LAUP stories. click here to find more.

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