Monday, October 18, 2010

Surviving Puberty after Cancer

Daughter just turned 12 – the third and last of our fall birthdays.  After school one recent afternoon, she was sitting on the couch reading her first Seventeen magazine, ordered through a recent school fundraiser.  I was picking up the house, cleaning the kitchen and generally organizing for the evening when I noticed she became very agitated and restless.  Soon Daughter started firing questions at me like, “Why do you give us those stupid frozen vegetables instead of fresh ones?” and “How come I get applesauce in my lunch instead of fresh fruit?  I hate grapes, why can’t we get something else?”

rib3.gif - 3.2 K I found this a bit strange coming from a girl whose primary food group is ice cream.

Silly me, I tried to answer her questions with reasonable answers, explaining that when we’re out of fresh vegetables, frozen ones hold the most nutrients, and so on.  She was not impressed.  She became more agitated and unsatisfied, looking as if she just realized that everything in her life is WRONG.

Finally she blurted out, “This magazine says that you can reduce your risk of breast cancer by exercising regularly between the ages of 12 and 24.  I told you I wanted to do volleyball and why won’t you go out everyday with me to roller skate after school?”

Finally, we were getting somewhere.  I stopped trying to answer her questions and sat down on the couch next to her.  I asked gently, “Are you feeling afraid that you will get breast cancer?” 

Daughter glared at me through her bangs, “Yes!”  And with a little more defiance in her voice, she added “and it’s all your fault!”

Indeed.  I cannot argue with pubescent, capricious reasoning.  Neither can I wrap my head around what it must feel like to be a pre-menstrual developing girl, newly growing what your mom recently had cut off.  How does one blossom into womanhood with confidence and self-acceptance when it feels like you’re growing a couple of ticking time bombs? 

I do know what it’s like, however, to be the mom of such a girl.  Most days it feels like I am flunking.  I try to walk the thin line between honesty and hope, between past events and future possibilities, between living healthily and letting go of haunting anxiety.  This is a tall order for a grown woman, much less a young girl with a rapidly changing body. 

I know that this is beyond me; I cannot fix or control her experience.  I do try to embrace that the real gift is that I am here—I am here to grow through this with her.  I pray that in the long run, this will make all the difference.

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