We Use The “C” Word in My House

“Did you hear about Maggie?” a woman asks me one night at dinner.
“No. What happened to Maggie?” I respond, concerned.
“Well…. you know…”
“No. I don’t know.”
“Ummmmm…….. well……. she has CxdvApgluNsdkCdklebkler,” she whispers.
“Huh! She has what?” I’m not sure if I didn’t hear her, or if she is just mumbling.
I look around the room and everyone is silent, waiting for her to repeat herself. Apparently, I am not the only one who didn’t understand. I look at everyone’s expressionless faces. Aren’t they the least bit curious about what has happened to Maggie? And, I really don’t understand this conversation. This woman brought up the topic, why won’t she just tell me what the hell is wrong with Maggie? Does she think if she says it out loud it will become contagious?
I tell her I’m sorry but I did not hear her. Could she please repeat herself?
She looks around the room, as if to make sure no one is watching. She leans forward and says, “She has C-A-N-C-E-R.”
I look at my kids who are sitting next to me. At ages 14, 12 and 8 I am pretty sure they can all read. So I am not sure why she spelled it out. “Oh, well why didn’t you just say so?” I respond, as no one else in the room dares to speak.


What is it about the C-word that makes it so difficult for people to say out loud? I understand the fear and negative emotions associated with the C-word, but if we as adults can’t say the word, how do we ever expect our children to be able to deal with it?

As a young child, I remember hearing about a distant relative who had died from cancer. I was shocked, devastated, curious, and confused. I didn’t even know she was ill, and now she was dead! It was the first time anyone I knew had died and I had so many questions. Of course my parents left it at that; there was no conversation about what type of cancer she had, how long she battled it, or how this had affected her family. I was left to figure it out on my own.

These days, our children have the benefit of being able to research everything online, and if we are not going to be their primary source of information I promise you some random website is. And what that site offers may be much worse than what you want your child to know.

Difficult conversations, like cancer, death, and divorce are discussions we have in my home, just like talking about a new birth or a wedding. Cancer Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 9.16.41 PMis no longer something that can happen to a distant relative; it is real and we cannot fear the conversations. We don’t whisper the word in my house because that would make it unapproachable. Instead, we use it like any other word, normalizing its use. And we choose to talk, and to provide opportunities for our children to ask. We want them to know that the door is open to discuss any topic. And when we talk about these topics BEFORE they happen, we better prepare our children (and ourselves) to handle the emotions that come with them when they do happen to someone they know or love. Although we would prefer to protect our children from ever having to deal with these experiences, we know that cannot be the case.

If we are going to handle life’s biggest challenges like the woman who told me about Maggie, we program our children to think that we are too fragile to discuss such topics. We inadvertently tell them to seek their answers elsewhere. Providing the answers may be difficult, and we may not even have all the answers, but it is worth the discomfort. It is worth it to know that our kids will come to us. So take a deep breath, let your MomAbility guide you and start using the C-word, it’s not contagious.


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