Saturday, January 21, 2012

Not THE LOOK Prince sang about--AKA Cancer Face

Harrison reminded me the other day about some things I had told him were likely to happen in regards to this whole cancer journey, and he seemed amazed that I had so much insight into it all.  I'm not sure why he was surprised--I have been telling him for years that I used to be very smart before he and his brothers came along.  Now, the brain cells seems to be melting away by the hour....wait, where was I going with this?

Anyway, we were on the way home from that initial appointment with the sports medicine doctor.  We had been referred there by Harrison's pediatrician, who wanted to follow up on his complaint of leg pain.  We were all pretty sure that it was some type of muscle strain, since the pain started after he had sprained his ankle when cutting the grass.  She wanted to have him checked out, just to make sure.  So, we went to the appointment and I almost told them we didn't need the X-ray, because nothing was broken, but I didn't feel like putting up a fight so I just waited while he had the tests.  Then, a few minutes later the doctor came in, with THE LOOK on his face.

He didn't waste any time saying that the X-ray showed a definite abnormality, and the Harrison would need to be on crutches and non-weight bearing on that leg because the 'remaining bone was so weak'.  What?  Remaining bone?  He then said that it was most likely a tumor or possibly an infection, and was referring to an orthopedic oncologist ASAP.  Oncology, as in cancer.  Nothing had been confirmed, but I just knew.  In fact, my whole professional (before staying home with boys) life--I was a social worker at 3 different hospitals-- led me to know exactly what was going on.  The fact that this doctor even said tumor, as opposed to something like 'suspicious growth' or 'spot on the X-ray', spoke volumes.  Doctors tend to want to pass that diagnosis task along to anyone else, and he could have easily done the same.  But even if he hadn't said that, his Cancer Face was a dead giveaway.

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I don't know when I first started using that term.  It may be something everyone uses, or something I learned at a continuing ed conference.  It is essentially the look that everyone tends to give a cancer patient/family once a diagnosis has been made.  It is like a mixture of pity/sadness/awkwardness/fear that on some level is conveyed with most face to face interactions a person has A.D. (after diagnosis).  This seems to be particularly nerve wracking for men with cancer.  Cancer is associated with weakness and suffering, and men just don't like being perceived as weak in any way.  They sure don't want every look they receive to convey that weakness.

As we left the office that day, everyone we passed gave me that look, from the nurse to the X-ray tech to the receptionist.  No official diagnosis had been made, but they just knew.  And because of that look, so did I.  On the way home, I began the process of preparing Harrison for what was to come, so everything wouldn't be a total shock whenever he was officially diagnosed.

Among other things, I explained to Harrison about Cancer Face--that people will look at him and interact with him very differently from now on, at least for a few years.  I told him that girls will be all huggy and concerned and speak in a high pitched voice.  I explained that a lot of guys his age would MAYBE mention it once, but then ignore the subject (and possibly him) completely.  Grown women would likely talk only about the cancer, and grown men would ask how he is doing, talk about anything else but cancer, and then at the end of the conversation grab his shoulder and tell him they would be thinking of him.

I also told him not to read too much into friends who will now ignore him, especially guys.  It doesn't mean that they don't care or aren't concerned, but is just an indication of where they are developmentally and socially.  I told him there would be a core group of people his age that would rally around him and be the ones to spend time with him and treat him like life was still normal, and that he would be surprised at the concern some people would show--folks who had never really interacted with him up to that point.

And these things are exactly what have happened.  When you combine these observations about human nature with my disease process/rehab/medical center knowledge, Harrison is starting to realize that maybe I have more to offer in this whole process after all, because, you know, teenagers think their parents are so smart anyway.

We are also at the point where we are seeking out the humor in this whole situation.  We have even adapted a  new song called 'Cancer Face', sung to the tune of Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face' (Ca, Ca, Ca, Cancer Face. Ca, Ca, Cancer Face).  Yeah, we are that kind of family.

Hospital admission is Monday, with chemo to begin on Tuesday.  Boo, boo, boo!

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