Peyton with his sister and brother, Hailey and Ian.
Dear Parents of Children with Cancer,
I have been thinking about you, as I have so often. I think about what you are feeling and thinking from day to day as you do all you can for your child during this tough time. I remember wanting to talk with other parents, especially mothers, who also had children with cancer. It was enormously helpful to me and so very comforting to hear their experiences and wisdom.
Once I became a well-seasoned parent of a child with cancer and throughout the years since, parents of children with cancer have reached out to me for the same reason. We are here for each other, and so I would like to use the space of this online journal for Peyton’s Potion to write letters to you from time to time. I hope that if you've found your way here these letters will help you in some way.
There is one thing in particular I am thinking about today, something that was shared with me shortly after Peyton was diagnosed. I could not get over the mountain of questions I had about childhood cancer. For every question I received the answer to, two more would pop up like heads of the Hydra. I asked how Peyton’s cancer would be treated. The answer was this chemo, which would raise questions about effectiveness and side effects, which would raise more questions about how to manage those and on and on. There were also the questions about how to cope, how to balance life that had been tipped upside down, and how to keep track of everything that must be done.
One of the most important answers given to one of my questions was from a mother I met whom I called at the onset of Peyton’s cancer treatment. Kathleen was a friend of a friend, and her son was close to Peyton’s age and had leukemia too. I was eager to talk to her because her son was near the end of his cancer treatment. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her, but there was one question that was weighing heaviest on me at the time.
“What’s the number one thing you can tell me about how to do this day in and day out for three-plus years?” I asked.
She took no time to think about it and replied, “Laugh, and laugh a lot!”
I’ll be honest, I had a hard time hearing that. That was the number one thing? It bothered me when I could hear nurses laughing in the hall while Peyton was hanging on for dear life, or when one of his doctors tried to make a joke. Don’t get me wrong, we had our moments of levity, mostly while watching funny movies, but often it was hard for me to feel or to see the humor in things.
Kathleen could see that what she said was a bit troubling for me, so she offered examples of simple ways to have fun, to get the laughter in whenever possible. She said, “Take the Coban wrap that the nurses usually discard after changing out Peyton’s IV and smash it into balls and throw it at each other.” Eventually — not right away — I did exactly as she instructed. I balled up and bounced a bright blue sphere off Peyton’s head. His face lit up, first in surprise, then with an eagerness to get me back. I saw a flush of red appear on his always-pale cheeks. It was a calming balm, adrenaline rush, and the happiest moment all at once.
Children watch their parents and their responses more closely in cancer treatment. So predominant in a child is the desire to play, to have fun, to laugh.
One of the greatest things we can do as their parents is to remember this. Laughter makes us feel whole, relaxes us, gives us a more positive outlook and keeps things in perspective when the path before us is so focused on enduring something. When we make laughter a top priority as part of their treatment of cancer, we help our child continue being a child through something that is otherwise deadly serious.
Some of my favorite laughs with Peyton were when our family was together, riffing off one another or taking photos of ourselves making goofy faces, especially when Peyton was bald; seeing who could come up with the corniest jokes during long infusion days and Peyton recording songs on his DS and listening to them backwards. He never tired of it and can still sing to this day “Frosty The Snowman” backwards, I mean, each individual word backwards!
It didn’t really matter exactly what we did. What mattered was our willingness and intention to laugh as much as we could bear.
I’m sending you love and prayers and hoping that your days with your child are filled with healing laughter. ~ JessJess is Peyton’s mom and co-founder of Peyton’s Potion. She is a Life Story journal writer and storyteller. Jess has been keeping journals from a young age. Her journal entries throughout Peyton’s cancer treatment were also posted regularly on caringbridge.org.