I felt like I was talking to an adult. To a friend or colleague who was telling it to me straight. Only I was talking to a five-year-old who has had to handle some pretty adult issues over the past few weeks.
Tanner had woken up from her nap in a great mood after having had a pretty good morning, overall. She was perched on the kid-sized table in our playroom. I was amazed. It was the first time I had seen her sit up without leaning against something in weeks. She was laughing at Jake and encouraging his wacky antics as he searched for the “monsters” she kept pointing out to him and telling him to run from. Then, the phone rang. It was my neighbor, Ashley, whose daughter, Corinne, is Tanner’s best friend. They wanted to come over for a few minutes and I thought it would be a great time since Tanner seemed to feel so good, so told them to come right away lest we lose the moment. That was where the fun stopped.
I told Tanner they were coming and she slid off the table and asked for a pillow so she could lie down leaning up against the table she was just perched on. She visibly slumped… face, body, legs. She looked miserable and terrified. I leaned down and said, “Don’t you want her to come?” She told me she didn’t feel good anymore. I asked her if she was scared and she nodded. I asked her why and she said, “Because we are not the same anymore. We’re different. I have leukemia.”
And therein lies the crux of the problem.
I would love to tell her they aren’t’ different, but I know exactly what she means. Corinne and her sister ran around the room, playing with our train table and a talking doll of Tanner’s, chasing Jake and generally, being kids. Tanner lay on the floor, being sick. She did liven up a little several times and talk animatedly about several topics, including, of course, food. But, right now, she sees huge differences between herself and her friends. They haven’t had to walk the road she’s had to walk over the past few weeks, they haven’t had to accept that they have a disease that will be with them for years to come, they don’t worry every day that their hair will fall out. She’s right… they are different… they are the kind of carefree kid mine was up until May 30.
Truth is, I don’t know what to tell her to make it better. I’ve never been through anything remotely like what she is facing. At five years old, she’s already topped my 40-plus years of living in the “difficult road to walk” category. I birthed her big self naturally, without any drugs, but that pain only lasted 22 hours and 17 minutes, not 3 years. I just don’t have any idea what she is really going through. For once, I am speechless.
In the end, our friends’ visit was exactly the kind of medicine we need more of. The more that Tanner sees that other kids still love her, still treat her basically the same, the more she may feel just like all the other kids. But, I still can’t tell her she’s not different… she just is. And, we’ll have to find a way to prove to her that different is okay.