Kept in the dark

Back in 1984, when I was sixteen years old, my mother died of cancer. She had only been ill for a few months and she fought for her life all the way. She would tell me that when her hair grew back after the chemo, it would be longer than mine. Back then there was no internet, WhatsApp, BBM or any social media other than the telephone.

From the beginning I was never told what was really happening. We didn’t even use the word ‘cancer’ it was called ‘the big C’. In those days cancer happened to ‘other people’ so we couldn’t bring ourselves to utter the name. Today, most people can identify with this loss due to cancer in either their family or immediate friendship circle.

Maybe it was my age and my father was trying to protect me or it had something to do with staying positive but until the day she died it never occurred to me that she wasn’t going to get better. When my father came back from the hospital to tell me that she was gone, I was numb. I didn’t even cry. I went to a party that night with my friends and they told me to cry but I couldn’t.

Now that I am a mother with three children of my own, I wonder if keeping my children in the dark is the best thing.

When my middle daughter found out that my husband and I had been lying about the tooth fairy, she was ten years old. She didn’t take it very well because it dawned on her that we had been lying about a whole lot of other things. Who brings the presents down the chimney and hides the Easter eggs in the garden? She was very angry with us for lying because we had always said to her that we would not tolerate lies from her or any of our children.

Together we went to see a therapist because we wanted a trained professional to give her another perspective on why we had created these mythical truths for her. The fact of the matter is we lied and no matter the reason we had lost credibility.

This is of course not as serious (in my opinion) as to whether your terminally ill mother is going to live or die.

If I were sixteen now and faced with this scenario I would certainly turn to the internet for information. I would try finding out everything there is to know about brain tumours and lung cancer and trawl chat rooms to see if I could find opinions on treatment and the types of drugs used for cancer.

My father would not be included in this venture because I would be seeking a second opinion. Not that I don’t think he is very smart and respect his opinion but I would not sit back and wait for things to run their course. 

What kind of information would I have access to and how much of it would help me given my limited knowledge of the disease?

A resource where I could speak to a qualified doctor online would be my best bet. There were times when my father did panic and whisked my mother off to the hospital during the night because the pain in her head was unbearable. It was too late at night to call the specialist or even a family friend for help so when I woke up in the morning and she was not there, I went to school and carried on with my life.

I did talk to my friends, they were my lifeline, but they were just as much in the dark as me. And eventually it was an emotional burden for all of us.

Today there are so many health resources on the World Wide Web; I would be overwhelmed with the choices. But it may not be to my full benefit because the information, without the background knowledge, is open to interpretation and my conclusions or decisions could be skewed.

A website like is the kind of resource where I could speak to a qualified doctor or a therapist about my mother’s illness.

My father was just doing what he thought was best for me but in this day and age, my children can go online and research any topic, ensuring there are no further surprises!

Magda_Kus 2014-08-04 06:56:22 AM
Hi Gaby, I identify with much what you say (my mom died months after being diagnosed with cancer in 1993 when I was 20). We also thought somehow various alternative treatments & her will power would win out. We knew the doctor's verdict (also not delivered very sensitively when my mom & I went for the consultation!). And yes - there is now all the info accessible on the Internet - but I am not sure it makes things all that much better (maybe yes, maybe no). As far as tooth fairy- my family did not have that tradition- but ask your daughter would she rather have done without this little bonus? And Santa Claus- read about the original St Nicholas of Myra- an example of generosity. This is the spirit in which we should give gifts at Christmas (heck- reindeer & chimneys are the Scandinavian addition- and probably for the sake of making kids laugh and say Aaaah!)
Nobby Poltice 2014-08-04 07:25:17 AM
I would certainly not advise anyone to rely upon the internet for life or death medical advice. See a qualified doctor in person. I did that in 2004 when I felt stomach pains. I am alive today because my GP immediately referred me to physician, who examined me, obtained blood tests and, after a CAT scan, identified a huge cancerous tumour in my colon. Left even for a few week I would not be around today. See a doctor. You cannot get expert medical advice anonymously. You cannot do blood tests and CAT scans over the internet. What you are suggesting is the most dangerous advice I have seen for a long time on this forum. BTW, thank goodness your link does not work.
Lynn O'Shea Comley-White 2014-08-04 07:53:01 AM
In 1974, much-loved aunt of mine was diagnosed with pancreas and liver cancer. I was 19 and this was the first time anyone in my family had had cancer. She died 7 months later without ever knowing HERSELF that she had cancer. It was too frightening to tell a person that they had cancer in those days. We told her that she had just had a gall bladder operation - yes, that was a lie but we were too worried about upsetting her even more. As far as the tooth fairy, Father Christmas etc goes, I really don't think that is telling a 'lie' to your child. It is a 'fairy story' that your child should enjoy while he/she is young and then feel 'grown up' when she is told or finds out about it. He/she then should be encouraged to keep the secret and the fun of the story for the younger siblings. Having to go for therapy for this ... wow!! First I have every heard about that happening. Maybe explain that a lot of the children's books she may read are not true either and are just fairy stories but NOT lies.
Colleen 2014-08-04 08:52:04 AM
Depending on their age and level of understanding, children should perhaps be shielded from some harsh realities. Today's parents tend to casually burden very young children with life facts that the child is unable to understand correctly or deal with emotionally. I am not referring to a 16 year old though.