When our son was finally diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, Stage III, after ten months of misdiagnosis, I knew it was my fault. I "should have" pushed the doctors for an answer to the cause of this mammoth node on his neck. I "should have" asked that the biopsy be reviewed by another pathologist. I "should have" admitted that, in my gut, I knew it was cancer, but didn't want it to be. I "should have" taken him to a different hospital for second opinion.

I knew, somehow, it was my fault he was Stage III instead of Stage II. I knew, that it was our living in Japan, one hour from Hiroshima that caused his cancer, that I let him get run down and "catch" mononucleosis. I knew I didn't eat right when I was pregnant, didn't feed him well-balanced meals and failed to protect him from all that was evil in life. There was no doubt about it, it was my responsibility to have the medical expertise of a pathologist, oncologist and the power of  Greek goddess.

I failed.. My son had cancer and I couldn't "fix it." I couldn't kiss it away, research it away or cry it away. Mothers are supposed to make things better. Fathers are supposed to make things better. So, I turned the guilt inward. If my son's body had betrayed him, I could not celebrate my body. I stopped working out, gained weight, felt guilty for having a good time, didn't celebrate the simple things--and there were days when simple things were the only things we could celebrate. My husband and I joined forces dealing with the logistics of having a child in treatment and both parents working. I dropped my hours to half-time. I took a month off. I saw a counselor and allowed friends to help us out. We survived. He survived, even flourished. But for years, I was looking up, waiting for the dragon to return and deep in my heart, I knew it was my responsibility to guard against a relapse from occurring.

It took me years to recognize that at some point, there must be trust in a doctor. We trusted ours. There must be a recognition that doctors are human--the pedestals have been smashed --they make mistakes--they will continue to make mistakes. We are all in this together.

It took years for me to not worry at our sons' every cough or sneeze. (I still do, but
it's more rational these days.)

Our son's perspective is different. He feels cancer matured him, made him wise, more grounded. Ironically, his grades soared after he went back to school! He's married now--to a lovely, warm, compassionate woman and they are hoping for children. Life is good. None of us takes anything for granted--a gorgeous day, a great meal, playing with the dog--even lousy days are appreciated and cherished.  And every year, we all still slightly hold our collective breath when he has his check-up. But, it's becoming easier and, while I don't recommend it, cancer has bonded us all together in joy, gratitude and appreciation.

Makana Townsend

To some more stories
Send me a note
To the site map

Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: November 14, 2004