Proof Discovered in Home Videos

Sometimes we don't realize the toll of treatment.

Home videos answered one of my burning questions about long-term effects of chemotherapy .

We watched home videos last night. Videos that we packed up a couple of moves ago and haven’t watched since. Random-moment-movies from about six years ago, and then a Christmas morning movie from 10 years ago. Movies that show our family in action and the changes that life brings.

My mind has been in a whirl since watching them. Several things hit me while watching these tapes with our three tall teenagers spread out around the room, lounging on all the furniture and each other, oohing and aahing, laughing hysterically, and each maybe getting a bit emotional (although most of that was masked with the above).

1. We have a beautiful family (did then, do now. I am just blessed)!

2. Our kids were adorable when they were little (well, come on, they were!).

3. They interacted really quite well together (I have memories of rougher moments, but man, they were really good kids).

4. The personalities they had then are amplified now.

5. Some things have not changed much at all.

6. Some things have changed so much that I had not remembered they used to be different.

Number Six is the one I don’t know what to do with. Even as I sit here typing, I’m not sure how to think or how to react.

You see, I watched my children interact at three, almost six and eight and the three-year-old shocked me. I studied his eyes and his voice inflections and his diction. I watched his eye-hand coordination and his gait. I observed his interactions with his sisters and parents on camera. I found my mouth dropping open a bit. I did not say one word.

After everyone went to bed, I asked my husband if he had noticed Andrew. How on-target he was as a three-year-old. How he spoke and how he moved. His weight. How very…well…how very typical of a three-year-old…he was.

With stunned introspection I realize that my boy’s beginnings have been painted by the brush of the cancer years. Andrew has struggled with balance issues and with coordination issues among other things. I KNOW that these issues present themselves as leftovers from chemotherapy and its side effects. I watched it happen. I spoke with the oncologist about these things. I’ve consulted with neurologists about these things. We’ve been to physical therapy and been on special diets (yes, the whole family has experienced the joy of weird foods in an effort to balance out one child’s system, and while it seemed right at the time, I wouldn’t do it that way again). Somehow, through all that we’ve experienced in the last eight years, my picture of my son has become distorted into thinking he had always had those issues.

Watching that video from 10 years ago, as a healthy little three-year-old trotted around with his new tool set hammering and sawing everything in sight of the camera (and out of sight of the camera followed by, “Andrew, don’t hammer THAT!” orders) I saw my boy back the way he was before cancer. I saw the whole family back before that word changed our lives forever.

People have hinted to me that I see trouble where there isn’t any—that I need to lighten up (no doubt they’re correct). They say to me, “You don’t know, maybe he would have struggled with these same issues without cancer.” They might be right. But watching that video, I don’t think so. You see, we watched one from when Andrew was three, and then we watched one from when Andrew was seven (three years after cancer onset, but still in chemotherapy) and his posture had changed, he spoke with far more hesitation, he had far more of a lisp and speech issues than he had at three years of age.

So now I know for sure that those issues are cancer-related and not something he’s had from birth.

So what? Why am I writing this? Does it change anything?

It doesn’t change a thing. We’ve been handed what we’ve been handed. I could wish us back to 2003, before cancer, and hope to start again with a different outcome. But I’m not God. Besides, would I rather have a thirteen year old without cancer issues but with something else? Would I want my girls to not be strong and independent? Would I want my kids to be less dependent on God? Would I want me to go on thinking that a rough day was defined by Andrew lifting his legs off his toddler tractor and riding that thing all the way to the bridge rather than knowing that a rough day really means almost not having your boy’s veins hold up through the night? Would I want to continue thinking strangers don’t care, or live life knowing that people are incredible and that they will step up in times of trouble in ways that you can only understand by being there.

As a caregiver I have issues that I never had before, probably more issues than my cancer survivor does. I have anxiety that I could never have understood in a million years (why doesn’t she just relax?) and a faith that is so deep it could be misunderstood as apathy (I really am OK with whatever God decides).

The oncologist told me that 70% of the kids in her care that have gone through the same treatment protocol have similar struggles. When talking (mistakenly) about being ready for things to “go back to normal”, the oncologist had shaken her head at me and gently said, “You won’t ‘go back to normal’. You just redefine what normal is and move on.” The PTSD class I went to told me that many caregivers struggle with the same things I do. Whole families bear the results as well.

So, it’s true. Our family is different because of cancer. There it is. We are victims of our circumstances. But we are also stronger because of our circumstances. We love deeper. We hang together. We cling to God. We are a blessed and beautiful family. Well, okay, I struggle with thinking the mom part of the equation is beautiful. But we are a great family! If you don’t believe me, come on over, I’ve got videos.

How has cancer changed someone that you love?  Do the ‘benefits’ of the cancer experience outweigh the changes?