by Diane Davies
Touch as a verb means to come so close as to be in contact, meet, join, connect. As a noun it is the act of touching someone or something, press, pat, tap, nudge, push, stroke, pressure. So what is the big deal about touch? Why are you writing this Diane? – you ask.
I’m currently reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor is an intelligent thirty-one year old woman who was deeply traumatized by her “Mummy” as a child. She was wounded physically, mentally and emotionally – by the age of ten she was passed from one welfare placement to another. When she reached eighteen, she was set up with her own apartment full of hand-me-downs by yet another agency and started university. She created her own world of alone for basic survival in which she managed to graduate college, get a job, and take care of herself by herself. Keeping the world out helped keep out the pain.
Eleanor fell into deep depression after coming to the realization that her love affair with a musician was totally in her imagination. The vodka bottle became her idea of a “fix”.
“I woke again. I had not closed the curtains and light was coming in, moonlight. The word connotes romance. I took one of my hand in the other, tried to imagine what it would feel like if it was another person’s hand holding mine. There have been times when I felt that I might die of loneliness. When I feel like that, my head drops and my shoulders slump and I ache, I physically ache, for human contact – I truly feel that I might tumble to the ground and pass away if someone doesn’t hold me, touch me. I don’t mean a lover – this recent madness aside, I had long since given up on any notion that another person might love me that way – but simply a human being. The scalp massage at the hairdressers, the flu jab I had last winter – the only time I experience touch is from people who I am paying, and they almost always are wearing disposable gloves at the time. I’m merely stating the facts.”
“These days loneliness is the new cancer – shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way.”
In the last ten years or so of my teaching career, we were warned not to touch our students in any way for fear of a lawsuit. A pat on the back, a quick little arm around the shoulder hug, tap on the head, letting them dry their tears on my shoulder. How could I teach children in first grade without touching them? At the end of the day as my students left for the evening, I gave them a choice; a handshake or a hug as you leave the door. 9 out 10 took the hug – even the boys. I decided I would touch and hug until an actual lawsuit stopped me. It never happened. Some days for some students, my hug may have been the only one they received.
With our ever increasing life style of technology, smart phones, Ipads, what have you – loneliness is the new cancer as Eleanor tells us. That’s why I’m talking about touch. As a human in the human world, we all need to be touched by others. It is as important as food, shelter, and clothing. I recently saw a t-shirt that read; “With all of the choices available, be kind!” We have no idea what the other person is dealing with in their lives so choose kindness and don’t be afraid to TOUCH others – whether literally or metaphorically.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine does have a fine message to share with all of us.
Diane Davies author of Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer
“You have breast cancer.” Hearing my doctor say those four words in connection with my body was devastating to say the least. Let’s try overwhelming, shocking, shattering, damaging, or even ravaging. None of those words come close to describing how I felt when I received that diagnosis. With my husband and adult daughter by my side, the consultation continued. I never heard a word of what was said as I was planning my funeral!
Here I am, however, fifteen years a survivor and breast cancer patient advocate trying to make the journey less lonely and less scary for those that come after me. My intent in writing Jeannie Ann’s story was to create a tool for families facing a breast cancer journey to use when they needed to start the conversation where children would be told about the loved one’s diagnosis. Reading Jeannie Ann’s story will serve as a stepping stone to creating an atmosphere where truth will be told and questions answered.
“Wait! I don’t want my children to know that I have cancer. I want to protect them from the harsh realities of life. I don’t want anybody to know. I want to keep this diagnosis a secret. I especially don’t want to feel or appear weak, or scared and I certainly don’t want to cry and really scare my kids.”
I get it. I do understand. I’ve been there. My husband’s first wife lost her life in an accident. When we married and had our daughter we never even thought to tell her about this tragedy as she grew older. Great Grandma passed away and the minister leading her funeral was a member of the family. He was talking about this wonderful 101 year old little woman and all of the changes she had witnessed in her century of living. He mentioned the accident among other family trials and incidents that Great Grandma lived through. My twelve year old daughter was distraught and shattered. She explained to us that she felt abandoned by her family and alone. We had lied to her by never telling her. My husband along with his mother and I spent many hours helping her understand the terrible oversight. Children need to know they belong and that they are important enough to know the whole story, good and bad, that we share together as a family. We learned that one the hard way.
So let’s focus on this “WHY” it is important that children know about a loved one’s diagnosis. First of all children are very perceptive. They thrive on routine because it makes them feel safe knowing what is coming. Any break in routine no matter how small is upsetting for them. In Jeannie Ann’s story, the break in routine comes when she gets home from school, a longer tighter hug from mom, no snack and baby brother still in his pajamas from the night before, is her tip off that something is not right. Dinner is a quiet affair – another hint. Anything out of the ordinary takes the safe out of the routine.
As hard as the truth may be, children imagine it worse. Jeannie Ann overhears Mom and Dad whispering after she leaves the table. She hangs around the doorway and hears the word C A N C E R! Now her imagination goes wild. Who has cancer? Is it me? My baby brother? Mom or Dad? What will happen to me? Who will take care of me? With the lack of information, children fill in the blanks themselves often in scary, unhealthy ways totally missing what is really happening.
Keeping cancer a secret can make the child feel shut out and abandoned as we learned with our daughter. Jeannie Ann even imagined that she was the cause of the cancer and the pain because of something she’d forgotten to do or perhaps because of bad behavior that she did do. The illness came as a punishment. This kind of thinking is not unusual and becomes another stress in the dynamic of the family causing a closing of the lines of communication. When trying to keep a secret, the child may hear about the diagnosis from a well-meaning neighbor or even other kids on the bus destroying the trust that the child has in the parent. This can lead to the child thinking that her/his family doesn’t even love them enough to let her/him in on the secret.
As hard as we as parents try, it is impossible to shield our children from the stressful parts of life. If we were successful, I’m not sure that would be a good thing anyway. Our job as parents is to teach children how to manage such challenges in life by modeling for them what works for us.
Being honest and truthful with children is important during the good times as well as the bad. When a child thinks the parent is not being truthful, it becomes difficult for them to know when they are being told the truth. The effects of treatment, loss of hair, exhaustion, nausea, sleeping all the time, can be terrifying for children without knowing the facts behind what is happening. Talking about feelings make feelings less overwhelming, upsetting and scary even for adults.
Your child depends on you. A cancer journey can be a loving growing opportunity for the family. It takes work and planning at a most difficult time, however. By letting our children in, we as parents are allowing them to learn how to care and provide support and comfort for others and for ourselves. This is an important life lesson.
Here is something to think
about. KidsGrief.ca talks about the Four
Child Concern When Someone They Love is Diagnosed With Cancer.
Keep these four questions in mind as you plan the conversation with your children regarding the diagnosis of a loved one with cancer.
Choose a time when you can focus all of your attention on the conversation. Make it a quiet time with as few distractions as possible. Turn off all radios, TVs, cell phones, and other devices to make for less interruptions. Plan for the time to be a long enough so all questions can be answered. The best place to hold this conversation is at home where all involved are comfortable and feel safe. If at all possible, the loved one with the diagnosis should be the leader with all members of the immediate family in attendance even the very young. Add others only if they increase the child’s comfort. People outside the family could possibly add more stress for everyone. I’d be real deliberate about who should be there and why.
If you are the patient, practice saying out loud “I have cancer.” That is a tough one. For me once I gave voice to it, it became reality. I highly suggest practicing it so you are able to control your own response. It’s okay to cry. You should be honest with those you love and crying is an honest response. Remember there is no age limit for the need to cry. Allowing emotions to be expressed honestly help the children to feel safe and secure.
Be prepared with all of the facts as you never know what questions will be asked. It is important to share what part of the body is affected and simple details regarding the treatment plan. Listen carefully to what the child is asking. There is no need to talk beyond what is being asked or to go into details that may just add to the fear. Being honest and hopeful is the best approach. If a question is asked that you do not know the answer to, assure them that you’ll find the answer and share it at that time.
“Will you die?” is sure to be one of the anxieties on everyone’s mind so spend some time thinking about how you will answer that one. Dying is always a possibility so be careful not to make a promise that is actually beyond your control.
Be sure the children understand that they are not responsible in any way for Mom having breast cancer. They did not cause the cancer by their actions or inactions. And just as important, they cannot “catch” cancer – it is not contagious.
“Who will take care of me?” is certainly a topic not to skip over with children. Where will I be while you are sick or in the hospital? Where will I eat? Where will I sleep? If possible, allow the children to have a voice in this plan. Be sure to reassure that no matter what happens, the child will be cared for and that you will try to keep their life as normal as possible under the new circumstances. At the same time, modal for them that it is okay to laugh and be happy during this time of illness.
Children can share in the experience with you by assigning them tasks to help with according to their age level. Teens of course can take on more responsibility but still need to have their own time and space if possible.
Here is a reminder list for parents for after the conversation and as the journey continues:
Listening to your child is the most important advice when a loved one is diagnosed with any cancer. Listening is a vast part of communication and good communication helps everyone in the family cope with the changes that lie ahead. Talking with your children honestly and helping them express their emotions will help them feel safe and secure and continue to build trust in you as the parent. Honest communication with your children throughout the cancer journey is of utmost importance. Don’t go it alone – reach out! There is plenty of help for those of you who are strong enough to ask for it.
Twenty-six years teaching elementary students, most of that time with first graders, found me ready for a change. I moved on to college seniors eager to take on their student teaching experience just before graduation. As their supervisor, I became the liaison between the students, their placement schools, and the college. Surprisingly the shift in the age of my patrons did not make a huge difference. Both did not listen the first time, both did not follow directions, and both discovered they needed me more than they thought. However, I was no longer tying shoes or zipping zippers.
“The important things in life always happened by accident . . . And then, out of the black beyond, like a hawk on a rat, some nameless catastrophe would swoop into your life and turn everything upside down and inside out forever.” (The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans) My catastrophe came with a name – breast cancer. It too swooped into my life and turned everything upside down and inside out.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 70’s when I was a brand new bride and just getting started on my teaching career. Thirty-four years later, here I was hearing the same diagnosis. In an effort to get my head around the breast cancer journey that I was walking, I started a journal. I told my family and friends many times that I knew where I was and I knew where I wanted to be, and the only way to get there was straight through the middle of this medical challenge. The daily writing helped me to do just that. It helped me to describe what was happening and what I was experiencing and at the same time give voice to my feelings about those very things.
Having made it past my own use by date, I gave my journal to my daughter so that if or when her own breast cancer diagnosis came along, she would have my words to guide her. “Mom, this is way too good to leave in the drawer. We need to work on getting this published!” And so as they say, “the rest is history”.
I self-published with DeForest Press out of Elk River, Minnesota, From There to Here a breast cancer journey by Diane Davies. After twelve years of survivorship, I reflected again on the life lessons learned with the enhanced awareness that only time can provide and published Breast Cancer Saved My Life. I was fortunate to have as my writing coach, Beverly Vote of Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine. She provided training and encouragement to get that second book out there.
My family has been so fortunate for years to make our home in the valley of the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin. We live on the Minnesota side overlooking the Kinnickinnic sandbar created by the mouth of the river of the same name dumping into the larger St. Croix. My husband’s great-grandfather purchased the land in 1854 before Minnesota became a state. His grandmother always called the narrow strip of land along the river the neck. The neck is where both our home and my daughter and her family home are located – next door to each other.
In 2007 my first grandchild was born, Elsie, and five years later Ely came along. Who could ask for more with my grand babies living right next door. To this day, I’m not sure they really understand that we have two different houses. It is just all home for them.
One of my favorite activities is to walk along the flat part of our driveway. Living in the country with about forty acres, our driveway is probably a half mile long or better. I say the flat part because the first part is all hill! And I mean Hill with a capital H. Once I survive the climb, after stopping for a couple breathers, the flat is easy and oh so beautiful. The drive is bordered on the west with forest, then field (usually corn or soy beans), then trees again, grass, and finally blacktop. On the east is the river, then forest, then field (usually corn or soy beans), then grass, followed by a strip of huge pine trees that I remember helping to plant when I first moved here with my husband, more grass, and finally the blacktop. The drive runs north and south and ends with a curve to the right and then left down the hill ending in front of our garage. We are blessed to have white tail deer, rabbits, chipmunks, field mice, skunks, coyotes, fox, raccoons, muskrats, squirrels of all shapes and sizes, you name it living in our forest. A few years ago we were even visited by a black bear which is rare indeed. Our feathered neighbors are bald eagles, hawks, Canada geese, all kinds of ducks, swans, loons occasionally, and now and then we spot a golden eagle as well as most all of the backyard birds found in Minnesota.
As a first grade teacher, I have read thousands of books to hundreds of children. Now as a grandmother, I have read hundreds of books to two grandchildren. My favorite room in my house is my library housing also hundreds of books for both adults and children alike. And on my bucket list is an entry that says “read my own stories to children”. Walking along the neck in the early morning my mind makes up stories about the animals I see. It is comparable to my head opening up like a funnel and ideas pour in. So the name Life in the Neck dropped in one day and along came Delaney the deer, Rocket the rabbit, Cardinal Red and of course Old Coyote who make up the characters in Life in the Neck New Friends.
Now with two children’s books, Life in the Neck New Friends and Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer, under my belt, I’m an author visiting schools and reading my own stories to children. That’s one big check off of my bucket list for me. Oh yes, and by the way, book number three, Life in the Neck Squirrel Trouble, will be coming out in the summer of 2019. Who knows how many more will follow?
LA Times Festival of Books on the USC campus in Los Angles is the next stop for award winning Minnesota author Diane Davies and her children’s books. ReadersMagnet will be hosting Davies for a book signing from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 as part of the event.
Since 1996, The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has become a world renowned experience gathering writers, poets, artists, filmmakers, musicians and emerging storytellers like no other. Today over 150,000 people attend, making it the largest festival of its kind in the United States.
Davies invitation to the Festival came through ReadersMagnet, a team of self-publishing and digital marketing experts that exist to assist aspiring and veteran authors in fulfilling their dreams. LA Times Festival of Books will take place on April 13 & 14, 2019 on the campus of the University of Southern California.
Life in the Neck New Friends by Davies & Sikorsikia and Davies newest book Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer illustrated by CA Nobens will both be traveling to Los Angeles.
Life in the Neck New Friends introduces you to Delaney the fawn, Rocket the rabbit, Cardinal Red and Old Coyote. These four will learn about friendship, cooperation and the busy world around them. When danger threatens the neck, will their bond be strong enough to beat it?
Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer is told by Jeannie Ann a typical six-year-old who happens to have a grandmother newly diagnosed with breast cancer. The fears, questions, emotions and misunderstandings of a child dealing with a loved one with cancer are explained in terms a child can understand. Tumors, mastectomies, chemotherapy, pain, and loss are discussed within the story as well as hope for the future.
Davies has been able to gift over 1000 copies of Jeannie Ann’s story to breast cancer care centers in the state of Minnesota through the help of corporate sponsors, friends and neighbors making a difference in the lives of children facing a cancer diagnosis of someone they love.
February 25, 2019
The Winter 2019 issue of Breast Cancer Wellness magazine contained an article written by Rev. Patrick Riecke entitled “When There Are No Magic Words”. His assertion is “that we kind of stink at helping people who are dying”. Rev. Riecke does not leave us at this point, but as a gentle teacher would, goes on to suggest five things a dying person probably needs to hear.
They need you to be present. Be. Here. Now.
Feel better – Get well soon – does not fit.
Don’t talk like that – You’re going to beat this – Doesn’t always fit the situation.
Continue to treat the person as you always would.
It gives the dying person power, choices, respect, opportunity and helps them find meaning.
A few years ago a good friend of mine was dying of pancreatic cancer. It seemed as her time came closer, we became closer. I stopped being the cheerleader and began to listen more closely to her wants and needs. When I did that, she began to trust me more and was able to share her thoughts and ideas more easily. One day very near the end she asked me, “How do I die? I’ve been trying but I don’t know what to do to make it happen?” I assured her that her body would know what to do. We talked about how we didn’t know how to birth a baby and yet it happened as our body just took over when it was time and how dying would most likely be the same. She then relaxed and in a few days her body took over and she left us.
Rev. Patrick Riecke has written a book entitled; How do Talk with Sick, Dying, and Grieving People, When There are No Magic Words to Say.
February 22, 2019
It was back to school this morning for Life in the Neck and myself. Thank goodness there was no new snow to contend with here in Minnesota.
Friendly Hills Middle School in Mendota Heights hosted a community read during homeroom. What is a community read? People from the surrounding community, doctors, lawyers, football players and other sports enthusiasts, authors, police officers, dental assistants, construction workers, grocery store owners, you name it are invited in to read a book to a classroom. One room had the teacher’s fiancé as their guest reader. One community reader for each classroom. And each guest gets too choose what book they will read. Now keep in mind that homeroom is about twenty minutes so no reading of War and Peace or any such title.
Off I went to a fifth grade classroom to read Life in the Neck New Friends. The guarded looks I received as I entered soon turned to smiles as I began to read Delaney’s story and have some fun with my audience. It is an unwritten rule somewhere that a middle school student should never show an adult that they are actually enjoying something. That’s just not cool or whatever the word is today. However, before I finished the story, there were hands up wanting to tell me about animals in their own backyards. Many even stopped to thank me for reading as they left the room headed to their first hour class. I call that success!
My time at the Middle School was not over yet. My next stop was the DCD room. As a retired teacher of a number of years, I had to look up just what DCD stood for. It is developmental coordination disorder which is a chronic neurological condition. Whatever, the students and I had a great time. We connected!
Life in the Neck New Friends was the book that the students were reading for another literacy activity within the school called “Battle of the Books”. I was honored to have had my book chosen to be read by this group of students. They knew the story which only added to the fun of my visit. We had time to play a game that I call “Name That Character”. I read a sentence or two animal description and they had to tell me who I was talking about. For example: his big ears and great hearing kept him out of danger most of the time. That would be Rocket the rabbit of course! I did not and could not stump them.
One of the young ladies asked, “What was your inspiration for writing the story?” She blew her teachers away with the question. Before leaving they asked me to sign a copy of the book to leave in their classroom. What a magnificent tribute to a remarkable morning.
February 19, 2019
The sun was shining on Regina Senior Living Chapel Lobby as members of the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group continued preparations for the book launch party to begin at 3:00. The coffee was brewing, lemonade and water on ice, and bars and cookies displayed beautifully on trays. The books were on exhibit – so it was ready, set go . . .
Residents from the center along with their caregivers were the first to arrive. I’m happy that we could provide for them a change in their normal routine. I read Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer to the group gathered with oos and ahs and even a tear or two. The story was well received as people just passing through even stopped in to listen. Some stayed for coffee and a chat as well.
As the afternoon progressed more friends and family stopped in. The lobby lent itself well to cozy little group readings that happened several times in all. The moments flew by and too soon 6:00 came around and clean-up began. Another event in the memory book.
Thanks to all who came to help launch Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer. Special thanks to the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group for hosting the party. A big shout out to Ames Construction of Apple Valley, Vermillion State Bank of Vermillion, and the many friends and neighbors who gave to Jeannie Ann’s Go Fund Me Account for helping me gift this book to cancer care centers throughout the state of Minnesota. To date nearly 1000 books have been given that will positively enhance the breast cancer journey of patients with children of any age. Jeannie Ann tells her story in a straight forward honest and loving way that is a role model for youth facing a breast cancer diagnosis of a loved one.
youth dealing with a cancer diagnosis in their family.
Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer by Davies and Nobens can be found at www.dianedavies.com , Amazon and Barnes & Nobel.
What a blessing to live in the neck! Sunday, February 17, 2019