I was playing outside with my friends one afternoon after school when I was rudely interrupted by a mandatory family meeting. I was irritated. I knew the rules. You did your homework, your chores and then you were permitted to play outside until dinner. Yes, we were around the dinner table, yet there was no food. I sat, peeved and impatient waiting for whatever was so important that could justify interrupting my precious play time.
My Mom had been pacing around, looking restless and bothered. My dad sat close looking calm and stoic as usual, yet there was an opposite feeling, visible and bubbling on his inside. My brother and sister sitting with my same confused half nervous look of anticipation.
My Mom had anointed herself the meeting’s speaker. After a couple of awkward rounds of the typical after school mom to children questions, we finally arrived at the meeting’s purpose. My mom with a large swallow told us the news as bravely as any person could. She looked me right in the eye, now I knew I was the focus, I could only assume I was in trouble. I was wrong. She told me that the doctor called while I was at school, the biopsy results had come back and the tumor was malignant.
My eleven year old mind did not understand the word “malignant”. I, of course, asked curiously for a clarification. My poor mom had been working up the courage all day to tell me this news, once had been enough. This time the tears could not be held back anymore, she choked out, “Chris you have cancer”.
I took this in for a moment. At eleven you don’t understand the severity of the word cancer. She might as well have had said malignant again or you have antidisestablishmentarianism. I just knew she had said the word doctor and I could see her tears. I assumed that whatever cancer was, I had it and it wasn’t good. I looked up at my brave mother. Still trying her absolute hardest to hold it all in, she was close to overflowing, the emotions ready to boil over.
I asked her if they could fix it. I asked her in a very matter of fact way, very calmly and genuinely curious. She told me, well yes. I looked at her baffled. Then what was the big deal? If they could fix it, then why was I inside when I could be outside playing?
I don’t think she could handle how well I took it. I clearly didn’t understand. I clearly didn’t see the severity. I clearly didn’t hear that sometimes death sentence of a word. I could see this, that she was not taking it so well. That it made it worse that I didn’t think anything of it, other than I was annoyed about more doctor visits. Somehow my eleven year old mind knew to tell my mother what I had learned in school that day. I said, “Mom, you know what Mrs. Junion told us in class today? She told us that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.”
The tears came harder. Though this time beneath her eyes beaten by a phone call and the anticipation and the burden of having to share this news with all of us and worst of all with me, there was a smile. There was laughter. I believe in that moment, she knew I was right. That we aren’t given anything we can’t handle and there was a few seconds of relief. I could see that I had achieved my goal of easing my mom’s clear discomfort. Which was a half selfish ploy; I saw my moment and promptly asked if I could go back outside to play. She smiled and nodded with the only energy she had left.
Obviously I survived as I am writing these words thirteen years later and after that moment, it was never as hard as it was then. We knew. My mother knew, my father knew, my sister and my brother knew (brave themselves for the attention I took from them) and I knew that there really is nothing we are given that we can’t handle. If you see my family today there isn’t one of us who doesn’t know this, who doesn’t understand this. Anyone who knows any one person in my family knows that each and every one of us is strong and successful. It has taken many moments around a dinner table in Iowa that have made us who we are today.