Sticky Fingers

Cancer's sticky fingers reached into our future and caused unforeseen problems. via @blestbutstrest“Are you by yourself?” My sister asked me when I answered the phone. I could scarcely hear her over the whine of saws and the pounding of nails as we rushed to finish the house we had started on our lot.

I looked around and gestured (yes, I gesture when I talk on the phone), “Not exactly. What’s up?”

“Could you go somewhere private?”

“Yeah.” I hate conversations that start like this. My stomach chokes me with a sense of dread. My feet feel heavy and my heart pounds. I can’t help but get that, oh-no-I’ve-been-called-into-the-principal’s-office feeling. I went out the unfinished front door, crossed the street and sat on the trailer.

“So, what’s up?” I asked again.

“I think Laura is depressed.” My sister’s gift is bluntness.

“Um, ok.” My mind whirled around the possibility, probing for proof to validate Vickie’s concern.

“She seems very angry. The whole time she was here, she just stayed up late, watched movies and acted sullen. She and Tasha got in a big fight on the cousin campout.”

“Ok.” I wanted to scream at Vickie that she ought to examine the plank in her own eye. I’d heard  Laura and Sarah’s version of the ‘fight’.

“I think she’s depressed. Believe me, I would know.’

“Uh, ok. I’ll talk to Laura about the fight and monitor her behavior.” She is a teenager, after all. They’re supposed to be sullen and angry, aren’t they? Why, just last week our family doctor had asked how the girls were doing, if they’d had any problems because of Pedro’s cancer. As if! We were fine. We’d experienced a miracle and lived in gratefulness.

“Is there anything else on your mind, Vickie?” Better to hear it all in one conversation.

“No. I’m just worried about Laura.”

“Ok. Like I said, I’ll keep an eye on her. Thank you for worrying about her.”

I sighed as I hung up the phone. There had been that incident last spring when Laura’s best friend’s mom called the principal to let him know that Laura had talked about suicide to a family friend. I’d taken Laura out to coffee and broached the subject. She told me it had been a moment of stupidity and that everything was o.k. I believed her.

The phone call nagged and niggled at my mind as we finished the house enough to make the bank deadline and roll the construction loan into a permanent loan. Laura seemed to be having panic attacks—bad ones—with greater regularity.

The phone call nagged and niggled at my mind as I started my new part-time job at a local Christian bookstore so that we could finally recover financially from Pedro’s cancer. Physical recovery: one year; financial recovery: four years and counting.

The phone call nagged and niggled at my mind when I finally figured out that Laura had been avoiding prolonged exposure to my presence because she’d pierced the cartilage in her ear. Not an Ojeda thing to do. Not allowed by school policy. Definitely not an expected behavior. I managed to gulp back dismay at this revelation, break the news to Pedro and work though it all. Only to have her pierce her ears and wear earrings to school the following week. Sigh.

Adolescence isn’t Terminal, It Just Feels Like It  by Kevin Leman was my new favorite book and mantra.

The phone call nagged and niggled at my mind when I noticed a deep cut on Laura’s leg. “What happened to your leg?” I exclaimed. That was no shaving cut!

“I was climbing through the barb-wire fence out by the enchanted cow pasture and Clancy pushed me over trying to chase a deer.”

“Oh.” What a relief. I’d heard that some angst-filled girls at school were starting to cut themselves. In fact, I’d heard it from Laura.

The phone call nagged and niggled at my mind when I dropped Laura and two friends off at Wal Mart and almost admonished, “Don’t do anything stupid like shoplift, ok?” I had only thought it, though, I hadn’t said it. I struggled to let Laura have independence and to not embarrass her in front of her peers. I could be so clueless at times.

“Where’s the other amiga?” I asked forty-five minutes later when I stopped to pick them up.

“It’s weird, Mom, she just sorta disappeared.”

My mommy radar sensed a stinkbug. “Really? Just sorta disappeared?”

“Yeah, maybe her dad picked her up.” Both girls nodded solemnly. Since I had to be back at the school for evening supervision, I bought their line. I wanted to believe it. I tried calling the friend’s phone. I got a phone call from the friend’s mom, asking if I knew what was going on.

At the end of our seven-mile drive back home, I had the truth. They’d been shoplifting and the missing friend had gotten caught holding the bag. I slammed the brakes on in front of the girl’s dorm to let out our passenger, grabbed my cell phone and dialed Pedro.

“Good. You’re home. Can you please take Laura back in to Wal Mart? I’m late for supervision and she’s been shoplifting.” No sense calling a dog a horse. I’d deal with the devastation and consequences later; right now, I was late for duty.

The phone call nagged and niggled at my mind as Laura left for a mission trip to Guatemala with a group of students from the school—missing both her birthday and Thanksgiving at home. Was she having panic attacks? I worried.

The consequences of her shoplifting had been rough on her—suspension, getting kicked off the volleyball team right before the tournament, loss of respect in the small community we lived in.

Shucks, the consequences of her shoplifting had been rough on ME! How responsible for her actions was I? I was a teacher, for goodness sake. I suddenly struggled just to go to school each morning.  I was a failure as a parent.

Fortunately, closet youthful shoplifters came out of the woodwork to share their follies with both Laura and I. We’d made it through the incident—our fragile family of four, stronger and more understanding of each other’s hurts and needs. I thought. I hoped.

The phone call nagged and niggled at my mind when Laura wanted me to cut her long, beautiful hair as short as her best friend’s hair. Hadn’t I read somewhere that hair cutting and other sudden changes in appearance mean something in a teenager? Or was she just struggling with her identity and trying to fit in with her peer group.

The phone call nagged and niggled at my mind as Laura jumped up from the cafeteria table and stormed out of the building. I ended my conversation with a fellow teacher, took my tray to the dish rack and hurried out behind her—on a different path, but where I could keep her in sight.

I tracked her down in the girl’s bathroom. She had just kicked a hole in the wall of the stall she was in. I waited. When she came out, I put my arm around her and asked her if she wanted to skip geometry and come back to the house to have some tea or coffee. She sullenly agreed, and we hurried home before the lunch crowd returned to the ad building.

“You cut yourself, don’t you?” The words jumped out of my mouth instantaneously with the thought. The cut on her leg. My book. She’d taken my book from my bathroom. I’d picked it up at the store where I worked because the title intrigued me, Inside the Cutter’s Mind. I wanted to know what cutting was all about—who, what, when, why and where. I’d really been reading about inside my daughter’s mind.

My beautiful, whacky, zany, funny, amusing, loving, sad, sullen, hurting daughter. What took me so long? I, who prided myself on my intuition and empathy had missed a million clues to my own daughter’s pain. How would I ever forgive myself?

Cancer’s sticky fingers reached out to pull us down again–maybe not with the actual disease, but with the long-term effects in the lives of other family members who had lived through the trauma.  We took Laura to the family doctor and found a counselor for her.

In retrospect, we should have ‘done cancer’ differently.  If I would have known how devastating the sticky fingers of the disease could be, I would have signed us all up for counseling at the time.

I realize I can’t blame myself for what I didn’t understand at the time–that a support group and counselors trained in helping children through trauma would have been a good idea.  Our family and community did all they could–but none of them had the expertise to deal with children living through the traumatic illness of a parent.

But I can offer our story up as a cautionary tale for other caregivers.  You don’t have to do everything alone.  Join a support group.  Find professional help for yourself or your children.

Each family member will deal with distress differently.  That’s ok.  I know it seems like just one more thing on an endless to-do-list for caregivers, but don’t let a mental health issue go undiagnosed.  Mental health care: It’s not a matter of faith–it’s a matter of being faithful and using the resources that God has provided for us.  (tweet this)

For more comfort for caregivers, start here.

Thank you to my beautiful daughter Laura Melchor, who allowed me to tell her story.  She is a writer and blogs at Blogging Blackbird.

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Oh Anita. PTSD is huge. My friend is going through this with her 22-year old son, who I think is dealing with unresolved issues with his brother who passed away suddenly, unexpectedly 18 months ago. I have been praying for this young man and the Lord revealed this to me as I prayed. I emailed my friend to share what I am confident the Lord showed me. She is a wise woman and will delve and seek on his behalf. Thank you for the post. Everyone needs to read this. xo
    Susan Shipe recently posted…day 29 of hopeMy Profile

    • We’re so hesitant to talk about mental health issues–especial if we’re Christians. But it’s so important that we educate ourselves and learn to recognize other people’s needs and be able to offer hope and godly counsel to get help.

  • I can understand – the last thing we want to believe is that something is going on in our loved one’s minds, and we so want to believe what they say. And there are so many things coming at you, so many pressures in times like that, it’s hard to be alert for everything. I am so glad everyone got the help they needed. There is a great emotional toll on the family when any one faces a trauma.
    Barbara H. recently posted…31 Days of Inspirational Biography: A Devout Muslim Encounters ChristianityMy Profile

    • Amen! It’s hard to keep track of your clean undies during times of stress, much less cue yourself in to the nuances of a family member’s mental health. I guess that’s why I’ve come to believe that when trauma strikes, get preventative help!

  • Thanks for sharing so openly. Teenage years can be rough enough without the trauma. Good for you for getting her the help she needed. Blessings to you.
    Robyn recently posted…What Do You Say to Someone Who Gives You Their Child?My Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Robyn. My husband and I have come a long way in our understanding of how stress can change a person’s chemistry and make them more susceptible to things like depression and even physical ailments. It’s been a long journey.

  • Oh, yes, yes … we need a build a healing circle around any soul who is suffering from whatever they are dealing with. Prayer warriors, excellent medical help, really competent counselors, a support group, loving friends.

    Praying for your family, Anita. Oh this is a rough time for you.

    But He hasn’t changed and is in the business of healing …
    Linda@Creekside recently posted…Click . Click . ClickMy Profile

    • Amen–he never changes and he’s not only the Great Physician, he’s the Great Psychiatrist, too :). Thank you for your prayers.

  • Yes. It is harder for kids then most adults know. Sometimes we take more on to help in what ever way we can. But it isn’t always healthy with all the growing we are suppose to do.
    Anung V recently posted…Take Time to be SillyMy Profile

    • Very true. We assume that kids are fine because they look fine. But we don’t know what’s happened inside their heads and hearts that will affect them later.

  • Thanks for sharing your story. It will help us recognize post traumatic stress in our own kids. We have experiences it, too.


    31 dayer
    Glenda Childers recently posted…Day 23 – 29 ~ Mini vacation in Door CountyMy Profile

    • I’m sorry you’ve had to go through trauma in your family, and I hope that things are ok now and that everyone is recovered :).

  • Thank you so much for a great post! And thank you for sharing.
    Amanda Calitz recently posted…Reflecting on 31 DaysMy Profile

  • Just so thankful that you kept being nagged by that phone conversation and got her some help!
    Lisa/SyncopatedMama recently posted…31 Days of Great Children’s Music: Here Come the ABCsMy Profile

  • Thankful for your honesty and openness Anita. I’m going through EMDR therapy myself and currently taking a time of reprieve to give my physical body a chance to recover from extreme stress, possible PTSD and/or acute anxiety. Whatever you want to call it, there is a physical and spiritual element to it all. We are best served when we seek God’s leading for help, health and healing as he chooses to give it. So glad you were observant in this case. It blesses me to see God use His people to observe and step in with love and care. Blessings to you and Laura, and all involved Anita!
    Jolene Underwood (@Faith_Eyes) recently posted…To See His Goodness with Faith EyesMy Profile

    • OH, Jolene, My heart goes out to you. It’s a long process, and has it’s mountains and valleys and just takes persistence to keep on finding treatment and the keys to what works. PTSD and anxiety and stress are not ‘one drug/process/therapy fits all’ sorts of things. My prayers are with you!

  • It sounds like you were very observant of your daughter at the time, which is such a blessing. I think it is important as Christians to take mental health seriously. Thank you for sharing this!
    Amanda recently posted…31 Days of Blogging – Days 28 & 29My Profile

    • Amen! I think too often Christians get all Judgy McJudgerton and think that mental illness is a lack of faith. It’s not. While faith certainly helps in healing, mental illness is more than just your walk with Jesus.

  • Your sweet girl…cancer really does suck. It is so easy to think our “mature” kids are handling these kinds of scary, unpredictable events without any deep fears, concerns, etc.
    Thank God He showed you through those “mom eyes” that something was not “right”. And you are AWESOME to have responded such a loving way.
    He’s got this…keep trusting Him and loving your daughter as you are…openly, honestly, and willing to acknowledge her concerns, fears, etc.
    That goes SO far into a child…acknowledging and validating their concerns :).
    Much love and prayers sent your way…
    donna recently posted…31 Days of Getting Things Done-Boxer Shorts CurtainsMy Profile

  • Surely the Lord will use these words to reach, touch, heal, and maybe save others. Thank you for being brave.
    Becky Keife recently posted…Day 29: The View from Up HereMy Profile

  • Thaml you for your heart and being open to sharing such a painful yet important part of your family story.
    Sara Borgstede recently posted…Three Girls and a DogMy Profile

    • Thank you for stopping by and for your encouraging words. It’s not easy to spill my mistakes before cyberspace–but knowing that my story might help someone else is an encouragement, for sure!

  • Anita…I love your honestly here. After all you went through with Pedro’s cancer, there was another scary thing to deal with. Praise God you listened to that listen voice and helped your girl find the resources she needed to handle everything!
    Jen @ Growing in Faith recently posted…#write31days {United to Help}My Profile

    • More than anything, I want people to be aware that cancer doesn’t always end with remission and only affect those who suffered from the illness. As a community, we need to be vigilant for signs of stress in caregivers and family members, too.

  • Wow… what a powerful and important post, my friend! To remember how cancer sneaks in to so many areas and to be mindful of seeking healing for everyone involved! So glad that God is consistent in ‘nagging’ and ‘nittling’ at us until we realize what is going on! 😉
    ~Karrilee~ recently posted…DAY TWENTY NINE – What Feeds Your Soul?My Profile

    • Amen to that! Sometimes he has to do a little shouting when we don’t get the nagging and niggling ;).

  • How stressful! I think sometimes when there is a crisis in a family people step up to help, but as the dust settles, so does the support system.
    Melissa recently posted…Writing Towards My GoalMy Profile

    • That is EXACTLY how we (my caregiver blogging buddy, Carol, and I) feel! We want to make the world aware that caregivers and people in crisis need loving words and kind actions long after the hospital visits have ended.

  • I’m next to you at Jennifer’s link up. Your post was so insightful. I’m so glad that your daughter is doing better.
    Elizabeth Stewart recently posted…Friendship…My Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth :). I love Jennifer’s link up and posts!

  • Anita, what a good thing you’ve done sharing this with all of us, whether we have teens or not we may have someone in our lives who is experiencing depression, PTSD, or worse. We know God is faithful and will be with us no matter the circumstances, but the “worry and niggling” occurs any way. I think you have stood as a good mother to Laura, and all of you will see your way through this time in your lives. Praying for you.
    Sherrey Meyer recently posted…Simply Sunday | Ephesians 2:10My Profile

    • Thank you for your kind words, Sherrey! Motherhood is not easy and takes a lot of work and a willing-to-learn attitude. I’m learning! Prayers are always appreciated!

  • WOW….I have been so afraid of how taking care of my husband at home for the last three years and watching him die was going to affect the grandchildren who live with me. I have been watching them closely but so far they both seem okay. Thank you so much for sharing this!
    paula recently posted…FIRSTMy Profile

    • I’m so glad your (grand)children are unaffected so far. I’ll be praying for you and your family as you navigate your grief and loss. With our girls, it took four or five years for the results to show up.

      • Egads! I hope we don’t see anything in four or five years!!
        paula recently posted…The ConfessionMy Profile

        • I hope not, too! Our girls were 8-9 when Pedro was first diagnosed, so they were pretty young–hitting their pre-teen years seemed to bring on the struggles.

  • Thank you (and your daughter) for so bravely sharing this story! I’m so glad you were able to see what was happening and get help before it went too far. it’s hard to ask for that help and to admit there are problems.
    Kathryn Shirey recently posted…Turning Your Ashes Into A Crown Of BeautyMy Profile

    • Yes, it IS difficult to ask for help! We discovered that we needed to change a lot of our misconceptions about mental health, problems teenagers face and ways to come alongside and help people. It was good growth (although painful at times).

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  • Wow!! Thanks for sharing (and thanks, Laura, for allowing her to share)! I think that this really hit me in terms of keeping my eye out for things and not thinking “that can’t happen to us!” I’m glad you guys moved past this point, but so sorry for all the struggle!
    Kirsten Oliphant recently posted…Take It Easy–You’re a Normal Mom.My Profile

    • Above all, it’s important to keep lines of communication open and spend lots of time getting to really know your kids (so that when something comes up, you KNOW it’s not right).

  • Such a powerful story! Thank you for sharing such deep and personal thoughts this month. I know so many people can benefit from what you and your family have learned!
    Sarah Donegan recently posted…Do You Give Hilariously?My Profile

  • Thank you for sharing. My prayers are with you and Laura. The road to recovery can be long, but you’re not walking it alone. She is strong for opening up with you and for allowing you to aid others with her story.
    Fleurztael recently posted…Fully Rely on God in the Midst of the Hardest TrialsMy Profile

    • Oh, thank you so much of your prayers, Fleurztael (what a beautiful name, by the way!). Laura is definitely a strong person–and very open about her struggles (she’s now 21, happily married and continuing to grow in wisdom and beauty) because she understands how awful it is to feel like you’re the only one who struggles!

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