There are so many surreal things about having a child with cancer. One of them is that suddenly, after not knowing anyone who had a child with a life-threatening disease, those families are everywhere. The entire oncology inpatient floor, in your same stinking boat. The outpatient housing. The clinic population. It's very easy to look around and think, "Well, I know my kid has an aggressive cancer with only a 25% chance of survival, but at least we're not THAT family."
Horror, fear, sadness, central lines, infections, bald heads become the norm. Most families discuss schools, teachers, sports, while your family chats about chemo, fevers, and MRIs at the clinic. You're not the only one.
As "real life" has enveloped us again, a welcome thing to be enveloped by, we are the only ones. While I am careful to avoid the "Why me?" line of questioning, knowing that it has no acceptable answer, I am having more and more trouble not feeling really singled out. This time of year is healthy well child check after healthy well child check. Kids at the pool. The neighborhood kids out in the yard. I look at all those kids, at all those parents, and I can't help but let a little bit of "why not them?" creep in.
I have particular trouble with a family we know whose youngest had cancer. He was being treated roughly at the same time as Henry, with a much more curable leukemia. He's a year older than Henry would have been, and doing great. He was at soccer tryouts this year, running, giggling, pestering his mother for candy. It's really hard for me to act normally around him. I certainly don't wish anything but the best for him, for his family, and I'm glad he's doing so well. But envy seeps into me as I look at him...why isn't Henry also running around, giggling, rolling in the grass?
This isn't the envy for your best friend's cute new shoes. It sours my emotions. It eats at me.
Yesterday I went walking, and listened to a podcast of Terri Gross' Fresh Air. I happened upon the story without knowing what it was about. She was interviewing Dan Gottlieb, a paraplegic psychologist, about his life, and his books (though she pretty much ignored the books and focused on him). I really enjoyed the interview. Mr. Gottlieb has looked death in the eye, looked grief and loss in the eye, and come out OK on the other side. Better than OK, he's good with it. He spoke for a while on the subject of envy, and says he envies no one. He suffers greatly and often, but envies no one.
I'm apparently not there yet.