Over the past 2 months or so, I’ve been finding and stumbling upon ways to help my 5-year old cope with my breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and recuperation period and now chemo and post-op treatment.
I found the 6 best things that have worked well with him to date:
1. Preparing your Kid in Advance
From the moment I received my diagnosis, I spoke to Caleb about it and prepared him for my upcoming surgery. All in age-appropriate terms.
“Mummy will need to go for surgery and stay in hospital for a week or so. The doctor will cut out the bad cells which are making me sick. I will be well after that.”
I also prepared him for my hair loss from chemotherapy so he wasn’t afraid or confused when I went bald.
I spoke to him several times and answered all his questions about it so he had an understanding of what was to come.
2. Keeping to routine
As it was during the month-long June holidays when I was in hospital and then recuperating at home, I kept Caleb to a fixed routine for the entire month. He went to Chinese enrichment class for 3 hours daily in the mornings (similar length of time as his Kindy) and visited me in hospital in the afternoons.
He also continued his gym, taekwondo classes and Sunday School.
3. Finding something he could latch onto
Ben bought a few big Star Wars Lego sets, which Caleb built in my hospital room every day. It was the thing he looked forward to doing when he visited me daily, along with us watching a Pixar or Disney movie together.
My mum bought him a junior monopoly set which he loved. That became his game with grandpa every day for my 9 days stay in hospital.
Interestingly enough, the moment I returned home from hospital, he stopped playing monopoly and switched to building Lego in my bedroom while I rested.
4. Letting him have a voice
Caleb was very chatty with friends who visited me in hospital if he wasn’t in the middle of a movie.
When my friend Hwee visited me the day after my surgery, he introduced her to my hospital room because he was so familiar with every nook and corner.
He greeted Hwee with, “Come, I show you my mummy’s urine packet!”
Fortunately, Hwee is very well acquainted with Caleb’s personality from all the anecdotes I’ve shared with her.
She very sportingly followed him as he led her to the left side of my bed and obliged when he asked to her squat down to get acquainted with my urine packet.
“I feel like our friendship has just moved to a more intimate level,” I told Hwee.
Two days into visiting me, Caleb met the lift attendant when he and his grandparents were on the way up to my ward. Someone before then had pressed all the lift buttons so the lift attendant came in and dis-enabled the buttons. My dad told me that Caleb watched intently as the lighted buttons all went off.
“How did you do that?” He asked the lift attendant.
Amazingly, the lift attendant taught him.
The next day, armed with his newfound knowledge, he put it to use.
They pressed the 10th floor to where my ward was. My mum then pressed level 2 because she wanted to go buy lunch at the food court.
Caleb did not want the lift to stop because he had to run to my toilet. He dis-engaged the 2nd floor stop so the lift went straight up to my floor!
Unfortunately he applied his newfound knowledge the next day too, which stopped a nurse going to another floor.
After I explained to him that he shouldn’t be stopping other people from going to their floors, he settled into a more lift passenger friendly routine.
My parents told me that he took on the role of a lift attendant. He asked every person who came into the lift where they were going. He pressed the lift buttons for them, and pressed door open and door close for them. He also engaged some of them in conversation. “I’m visiting my Mummy. Who are you visiting?”
5. Informing his Kindergarten
Once Caleb returned to Kindergarten, I notified Caleb’s teachers about my situation and sought their help to keep a close eye on him through this period, especially if he had any emotional issues in class.
His teachers got his class to pray for me and also read him stories which helped him relate to my situation. His teacher also called me a few times to update me on how he was doing in class. I was relieved to hear that he was very settled in and happy in class and had in fact matured even more in his social interactions with his classmates during this time.
6. Encouraging Expression of Emotion & Openness
I reminded Caleb several times that it was fine for him to tell me how he felt. Caleb’s Inside-Out board helped him express his feelings well in the first week I returned home.
For the next couple of weeks, he also had at least one emotional outburst a day on something seemingly unrelated where he became angry or sad. I just let him get it out of his system and he was fine after.
I knew he was expressing and saying what was on his mind (in a healthy way) when I sent him to Kindy for the first time in 7 weeks since my surgery.
When I reached the drop-off point for him to enter the Kindy gate, the staff opened the door for him to get out. The first thing he said to her was, “My Mummy is a Botak Head. But you cannot see because she covered it up!”
Later, when he returned home, I spoke to him about it. “Caleb, so have you told everyone that Mummy is a Botak Head?”
“Only that teacher (at the drop off point), my class teacher and ….my whole class.
“Oh, that’s all?” I said.
“Yah, that’s all,” he said.
Well, that was definitely all.