FIVE years ago, Caleb Macey was diagnosed with cancer.
His mother, Colleen, said that she had heard another oncology parent say, "You never get past your kid having cancer. You just get through it." And on this, the fifth anniversary, she says this is absolutely true.
Fortunately for the Macey family, Caleb is now a healthy, active child.
When I spoke to Colleen she admitted that she can still tear up when she remembers that time in their life. And as she spoke, I found myself close to tears.
What is it like to have a sick child? We have heard that when you get a personal cancer diagnosis it is devastating and the literature suggests that after the word "cancer," you hear nothing. Colleen says that when it's your child who is diagnosed you are shaken to your deepest core and you never totally get over it.
One of the great challenges was accepting help. "You go from being a family that is surviving on their own like everyone else to becoming a family in need." The help is heartwarming, she said, but also requires a real shift to seeing yourself as someone who needs the help and learning to accept it. People brought food and money and they needed to accept it. They required the help to get through this time.
She acknowledged that she was surprised by who stepped up to the plate and who didn't. She said that the folks you expect you can count on sometimes let you down. In her case, the school and community rallied.
At the time Caleb was eight years old, his sister Abby was six and young Gabe was a one-year-old. It was the school and community that really played a major role in Abby's life. Parents from Abby's school co-ordinated lunches so that the family never needed to worry about making lunch for her.
The school counsellor was an oncology parent and was therefore really able to help both Abby and her mom deal with the situation.
Colleen's parents were the lifesavers when it came to caring for Gabe.
Colleen says that when one child is sick, the other kids get put on the back burner. She recommends that parents tell the other kids that if it were them who were sick, they would do exactly the same for them.
The daily routine of the family consisted of husband Todd going to work, then going straight to the hospital and spending the night with their son. Colleen would take Abby to school, Gabe to his grandparents and spend the day at the hospital. She and her husband had only the time when they changed places and she left the hospital and he arrived.
"How did your marriage survive this life?" I asked.
She said they kept talking and somehow they managed to laugh a lot. She said that they also knew that there was an expiration date. There was a time when this would end and they could get back to their regular life.
She also found that when it was over, when they were home and Caleb was declared cancerfree, she found herself physically drained. Her body hurt, she was exhausted.
She was, she discovered, going through a decompression common to oncology parents. After months and months of carrying on as best they could her body finally knew it was time to let go. And it took her a while to feel healthy herself.
When you have a friend, colleague, family member or neighbour going through an illness, don't ask what you can do. Just step up to the plate. They may need food they can simply warm up, child care for siblings, someone to clean house, mow the lawn or run errands.
Make yourself available and you will offer an incomparable service to a family going through a very difficult time.
Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker and author. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at www.parentingtoday.ca.