Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The bed is in the ocean

I have a child, a girlchild, who is somewhat highly strung. (I hear my own mother's voice in the background, saying, wryly, like her mother. )

Granted, I think Tess has been through a lot of life experience that most nine-year-olds probably can't lay claim to, both positive and negative.

I was 16 the first time I ever rode in an airplane; Tess was 9 - as in 9 days. Like pease porridge hot. She was still a tootsie roll, wrapped in a blanket, when we all took a little Cessna on a short hop from Port Townsend, Washington, to Roche Harbor on Suan Juan Island. She has since flown constantly, shuttling around amongst her large extended family.

Tess has all the advantages and disadvantages of a modern American child, born to older parents. She has a ridiculous amount of stuff, being the only grandchild of a large doting Chinese American family on one side, and a large doting Yankee family on the other. She doesn't have to suffer a lot of frustration - she often has more than enough people around to solve most difficulties for her. But I have to say most, not all.

Tess has also been through more life-changing events than many adults I know. She lost her maternal grandmother to ovarian cancer before she was two. She doesn't remember Helen. She lost one of her favorite aunties, my darling sister-out-law, when she was six. To ovarian cancer. That, she was old enough to remember.

Most recently, she lost her other grandmother. To leukemia. You are starting to see the pattern, here, I think. And has suffered through seeing her mother getting treatment for breast cancer.

Keep in mind that everyone Tess had ever seen "get" cancer, before me, had croaked. She has always been an only child - I'm it, as far as she's concerned. There was a long time when "family" meant she and I. Team grundoon, the buck stops here.

She is close to her birth dad, emotionally, but he lives several states away. She also is very close, now, to her stepfather, but initially, we were all making it up as we went along. Kevin leapt into the fray at the beginning of my cancer treatment, and never looked back. We all got through it as best we could, but they truly forged a relationship during a state of emergency.

Additionally, over the course of my cancer treatment, in addition to the new stepfather, we moved, changed schools, dealt with immigration, etc. etc. ad nauseum. This is a ridiculously high level of disruption, and stress for anyone, much less a seven year old.

And the most amazing thing was to see how resilient she was. She surfed stressland like an old hand. No problems in school, tight with a number of close friends, no real visible signs of stress -except one.

Sleep. Or lack thereof.

There was a period of about three months where she almost never slept through the night. She would come in, often sobbing, at any hour, unable to go back to sleep by herself.

It took us several months to parse the problem. She presented it as nightmares - she was scared of something awful happening, and this morphed over time. Fires, monsters, someone coming in to kill her, you name it. But after much discussion, we realized that she was asctually coming in the check on me - the inverted equivalent of a parent worrying about SIDS.

During Sue's treatment for ovarian cancer, no one in Bob's extended family ever discussed that Sue might not get well. Bob's family is very prone to putting the best face on things, and in many cases I have no objection to this.

But look at if from a 6 year old's point of view. She saw her aunt on Sunday, and she was still in treatment. I spoke to Bob on Monday about hospice care, and this was the first time anyone on his side of the family admitted that she was not going to get better. I didn't manage to explain any of this to Tess.

Susan died on Thursday. Tessie's experience? People with cancer can be just fine on Sunday, and then be dead by Friday.

No wonder the poor lamb was coming in to check on me.

Since then, we have talked a GREAT deal about cancer, and death, and what it would mean if I got cancer again. Aaaand, she still has trouble falling asleep at night.

I took a page from Jessica Pierce's book, and she and I have jointly designed a garden, that is the safe place she can go to in her imagination when she starts to think scary thoughts. It has a round house in the center. It has a tree house. It has an elephant with a palanquin that she "designed" for me, and horses, monkeys, actually quite a large menagerie.

And her bed is in the ocean.

I've attempted to teach her any number of relaxation techniques - but falling asleep has that wierd zen effortless effort quality, where you have to focus your thoughts enough to avoid the scary stuff, but no so much that you can't fall asleep. By far the most successful one has been to get her to breathe with the waves.

I tell her to breathe in slowly, and then as she breathes out, to make the shhhhh sound that waves make when they back down the sand. The sound helps, imaging a rocking boat helps, focussing on her breathing helps.

And the bed is in the ocean.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dear Title 9 Sports,

I am a 43 year old woman/triathlete/writer and I'm just coming back to training after breast cancer treatment. I'm re-starting my training for the Wildflower triathlon and possibly the Mt. Shasta climb for the cure...and I NEED HELP. I need a jogbra that will hold a prosthetic comfortably (emphasis on comfortably), and a swimsuit that I can actually SWIM in. (Please do not tell me about Land's End. Yes, they make the only reasonably priced mastectomy suits in the US, but I do not want a granny suit for a triathlon, thank you very much anyhow.)

The modifications for a mastectomy suit top and bra are relatively simple and cheap, and I'm desperate. If you don't have one, will you please make them? I will glady volunteer to be your guinea pig/poster girl/bikini model/janitor for post-breast cancer female athletes. I swear if you do it there will be an audience for the products. One in seven women. One in four new cases of breast cancer are women 30-40 years old. We are everywhere, more than you know. Even one swimsuit top and one jogbra, I promise.

Thank you so much. Eagerly awaiting your response,