We were driving back a different way to our house and we went by a huge fountain. If you know anything about my son, he’s OBSESSED with fountains. He pointed it out to me and then asked, “What’s that fountain building?”
I looked at the sign. “It’s a place where they do cancer research.” Hoping that the direct answer without extras would satisfy his curiosity. Nope.
“What’s cancer research?” was the quick next question.
“It’s where scientists investigate how to cure cancer.” Yes, me, the queen of the run-on sentences was going for crisp remarks.
“Why do they want to cure cancer, what is cancer?”
“Cancer is a bad disease, a pathology that turns the body’s good cells into bad cells,” was along the lines of what my reply was; yes, I did use the word pathology. Who says you can’t use scientifically appropriate words with 4-year-olds?
“What do the researchers do?” This was a little tougher. While I like to give my kid the honest truth and explain things, there was no way I was going to delve into PCR and cell culture and all of that stuff.
“They fight cancer.”
“Oh- like with swords and stuff?” Not giving me enough time to answer, he went on to create his own idea what they do in that building: “The mighty cancer researchers run after the cancer with their swords and their lasers and they do battle in that building with the big fountain.”
Wow: my son makes cancer researchers sound like awesome warriors. Not sure I want to totally knock down that vision … I just responded with, “something like that, but not exactly.”
“Who gets cancer?” he asked.
“Anyone can,” I told him. I was wading into some deep waters here … “But mostly older people,” I quickly added as I sensed a small amount of fear in his voice. I told him it’s very unlikely that he would get cancer. As he was computing this, I said, “you know that sometimes bad things happen, right?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“But Jesus is with us when bad things happen and they don’t happen very often,” I said calmly. This registered with him and seemed to assuage the fear.
I then told him of the people he knew in his life that had had cancer and won, they had beat it. He asked me how they beat it. I told him with doctors help and with Jesus. He got a smile when I added in “Jesus.” He thinks Jesus is the ultimate hero.
“How did they beat it?” was his next question.
“The doctors cut it out with surgery. Sometimes they use radiation and sometimes they use medication.”
I think my son may have overheard how one of my best friend’s father has cancer, and it’s bad. He then said, “Not everyone beats cancer, right? Does it win sometimes?”
“Yes,” I told him as the conversation took a sad turn. “Not everyone beats cancer in this world. Sometimes Jesus takes them so they can beat it in Heaven.”
“Ok,” he said. Then he thought for a minute. “Mommy, when I get older I’m going to become a cancer researcher and I’m going to take that nasty cancer and I’m going to haul it on a spacecraft and then I’m going to send it into the atmosphere of Saturn so it burns up and never bothers people again!” He said this with much excitement and hope. I was puzzled for a moment and then realized he was referencing the destruction of the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. Wow, I’m raising a science nerd, I thought. However, the images of the swords and warfare he was bringing to mind reminded me how I pointed out the St. Michael the Archangel statue at church a week ago. Who knew a child’s mind could connect the two?
My son asked me about a difficult subject and hopefully when he is older he won’t need to be a cancer researcher; hopefully it will be cured by then. But if he wants to play “cancer researcher” instead of “soldiers and battle” I’m ok with that. I certainly have some white lab coats for him.
Copyright 2017 Meg Herriot