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At the Top of My Lungs: Explaining Cancer to a 5-Year-Old

I was particularly impressed and touched by the way my 5-year-old stepdaughter, Eloise, reacted to learning about my cancer.
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"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." - Lady Bird Johnson, former U.S. First Lady

One of the many reasons I fell in love with my husband Harlan was seeing what a calm and pragmatic parent he is, and, through his influence, what kind of people his children are. I was particularly impressed and touched by the way my 5-year-old stepdaughter, Eloise, reacted to learning about my cancer.

After my first week of chemo and radiation, Eloise came from Chicago to visit for a few days. We talk with her several times a week on Skype, but had not mentioned the cancer. This was our chance to tell her in person. At 5 years old, she can only absorb so much, but we told her that I'm sick, that what I have is lung cancer, and that I'm working hard to get better. We made sure she knows it's not contagious.

Harlan and I took Eloise to my radiation appointment, where she saw me in the big radiation machine and watched the scans as they zapped me. Then we went to chemo, so she could see that place, too. California Cancer Care is very calming and pretty, with big windows looking out on lots of trees. They even have an office dog who adds to the overall healing feeling of the place. Eloise watched the nurse put my IV in and we explained that this was the best way for me to get my medicine. She didn't seem alarmed at all by the new information, only interested -- particularly interested in choosing the color of my bandage when they took the IV out. Eloise chose red for me. She wanted a bandage too, and chose chartreuse for herself.

Eloise was immediately and genuinely concerned for my well-being. All day, she pointed out ways that she could help. Out of the blue, she said, "I'll throw away all of your garbage, so you won't get germs from the garbage can." She also suggested that she might help by getting ready for bed quickly and generally being polite. In the afternoon, she made me a lovely get-well card, with glitter glue liberally applied. Then she asked if we could watch Singin' in the Rain after dinner, continuing a long tradition of mad love for that movie in our family.

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