Friday, October 26, 2012

Hypothetically Speaking

The other day, my older son took a break from his homework and came to me while I was making dinner.

"Hey Mom?"

"Yes?" I answered a little distractedly, hands in the meatloaf mixture I was combining, figuring he had a math question.

"What would you do if you got cancer?" he asked instead.

I stopped mushing the meatloaf mixture. Now, I'm not very good at algebra, but at least I took the course (we won't say how many years ago), so there is SOME foundation that I can reach back to when he is seeking answers. But this? How do you answer such a question? Let alone to your child?

To me, the moment played out in slow motion, which I found very interesting on many levels. First of all, I have come to learn that when my son asks me hypothetical questions like this, it's usually because of something he's read in a book. So I usually turn it around and say, "Why do you ask?" just to see where it's coming from. But the fact that cancer is in my genes--I have lost five family members to it already and have a relative going through treatment for it right now--is something that has weighed on my mind more and more as I've gotten older. This knowledge distracted me from asking my usual question of the source of his inquiry.

"I would seek out the best doctors for their advice, and then fight it with everything I've got," is what I told my son.

The true answer that came, though, in the hour or so that I thought about it after his asking, is I don't know.

I've reached the age where everyone I know has been touched by cancer, either through their family, friends, co-workers or community. Sadly, the illness is so prevalent and varied that the only thing we can be certain of is we're not alone when it happens to us.

I know all the facts are out there about cancer, the odds, the heredity. But we're all going to die; none of us knows when or how. Is it better to try to plan and prepare emotionally for something that may never happen? Or to live in the moment, be as present as we can with our children, keep standing and doing and loving until we can't?

It may be a level of denial, but I've decided to go with the latter choice. Saying I'm far too busy to take the first route may be a cop out, but I really think it's what we all do until we're forced to do otherwise. Hopefully, Jacob's question will forever remain a hypothetical one that never has to be answered.

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