Parenting a Tween… with cancer

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The terrible 2’s? No problem, got that down. The toddler and preschool years weren’t fun at times, but little ones can be manipulated into doing just about anything and if you’re really good, they even get excited about it too.

Moody teenage daughter? Check. But even she pales against the attitude that we get from her 12-year-old sister.

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To be fair, Hannah is not an attention-seeker, in fact quite the opposite. So she isn’t overtly dramatic. It’s just the quiet steadfastness which gets frustrating, especially when we see her personality shine but she hides it from others.

As with parenting smaller kids, it’s still all about control. We have it, she wants it, and therein lies the crux of it all. When she gets her own way, she is all sweetness and light. But if not… Grouchy bear time.

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And she works it so hard – takes everything just as far as she possibly can to push all of our buttons. No bedtime kisses anymore and doles out a hug only on her own terms…

We look for the balance between letting her have at least a semblance of control wherever we can, and making sure that she’s respectful and cooperative when she needs to be.

It’s not always an easy thing.

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Especially when life throws a major medical wrench into the middle of your tween’s life and that teensy bit of control that she once enjoyed goes mostly out the window.

Suddenly she has almost no control whatsoever over massive portions of her life. And there’s nobody she can blame – it’s not our fault, not the doctors’ and nurses’ faults either.

But we are all the ones here – the ones she can take out her frustration on. Except that she rarely shows frustration. I wish she would.

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Instead, she gets quiet. Doesn’t want to answer questions or talk to anyone except in shrugs and nods whenever asked by someone in the medical profession.

I get it. I know how much she just wants everything to be normal again. The old normal, where she’s not pulled out of school for hours or days to be poked, prodded and port-accessed. Where she can simply be a moody tween girl and not stand out from a classroom full of other moody tweens.

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Nowadays, she stands out. By the hats she wears 24/7 to cover her balding head. The weight loss and pale skin. Sores, blisters and who knows what else to come. They all cry out ‘cancer!’ to everyone who sees her.

So she keeps control wherever she can. And there’s so little of it she has that we give her more leeway than we normally would. Is she respectful? Sort of, within reason. Cooperative? Not always and only as much as she absolutely is forced to be.

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Another parent said something on Facebook that resonates with me. I can’t remember who. But it went something like that the true face of childhood cancer isn’t only the smiling bald kids that you see on posters and billboards. The public almost never sees the pain, the frustration, the messiness, the stress and loss of control that are what a child fighting cancer has to deal with on a regular basis. And when you throw tween or teen hormones into the mix… It’s not pretty. Not at all.

I hope that someday Hannah will be able to open up. If not to me, then to another trusted adult in her life. And at the end of all of this, that she’ll be a stronger person for having endured it. Some days, I have to hold onto those hopes and dreams that we have for her when she is driving me crazy and making me want to pull my own hair out.

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Then again, I guess driving us crazy is her job. And in that respect, she is still a normal tween girl.

Thank goodness for that.