Monday, November 29, 2010

Tumor humor

Almost every time there's a new adult in Cooper's or Katie's life, I make a point to gently mention Steve's illness and death.

I learned to do this while Steve was ill -- to prepare the adult (teacher, doctor, coach) for possible conversation references to cancer or a brain tumor or crazy eye.

Katie especially talks about Daddy all the time. When I dropped Katie off for an art day camp this summer, I told her teacher about Steve right away, even though Katie would be there for only a few hours during one week. Katie emotes constantly, and I believe that the adults around her need as much information as possible.

Cooper had an eye appointment today, and I chose not to tell the receptionist or the optometrist about Steve. We wouldn't be there long. The paperwork didn't require me to mark my marital status. Cooper isn't one to volunteer information about Steve. It seemed like a safe time to just be a mom and a son at an afternoon appointment.

The kind doctor was a few minutes into the thorough neurological exam when he stopped and said jokingly, "Well, the good news is there are no tumors!"

(Nervous laughter from me as I silently curse myself for not telling the receptionist that Cooper's Daddy had died from complications of a brain stem tumor.)

"Well, that's good," I said cheerfully. Then I continued softly, "And you should probably know that Cooper's Daddy, my husband, died last year. He had a brain stem tumor."

I had to say something at this point, right? I didn't want more joking references to brain tumors, and I didn't want Cooper to worry. I went on to remind Cooper that the tumor in Daddy's brain stem was super rare and that it's not genetic and that I've never worried about tumors in his head.

The doctor was clearly upset with his comment, apologized to both of us and performed some additional tests on Cooper just to show him that he was indeed just fine. When Cooper left the exam room, the doctor apologized again.

I told him that I wasn't upset with him and that I usually let folks know in advance of our situation -- I just didn't think it was relevant today. I was wrong.


Cyndi said...

So sorry that happened to you and Coop. I'm sure the doctor will be making a change in his repertoire. Doesn't really help your situation, though.

Anonymous said...

What an uneasy time for the three of you. As a care giver, I have always said I have learned the most from my patients. Most of the time it has been positive; learning new ways to approach a situation that on most days seems so routine. But unfortunately, even an attempt at humor has sometimes gone awry. That is a painful lesson. You are so gracious and understanding. You taught an invaluable lesson today.

Marci said...

Oh Tyra, who can anticipate these moments of "ouch" and "oops" continue to parent with such grace and beauty. You're a rock star.