The trouble with honesty

The interview with Jordan when we realized she didn’t fully understand the situation.

Jordan believes in Santa Claus. She has classmates who believe otherwise, but it hasn’t dampened her conviction. And I have purposefully not intervened. It’s one of the few exceptions I make to my rule about honesty and candor. When Jordan was originally diagnosed with cancer, we told her immediately. She was five. Some people thought we were crazy. We thought it would have been crazy to keep that information from her. We have always been honest with Jordan–optimistic, hopeful, and encouraging, but always honest.

That’s why we were surprised this afternoon while shooting a video update for Jordan’s blog. I asked her how she was doing and she rattled off a health update about her legs. Then she volunteered, “and guess what, I don’t have cancer anymore.”

If you watch the video, you might notice a pause. That’s because I wasn’t sure what to say next. Jeanette and I sat Jordan down after her MRI and we told her there was a tumor on her spine. How could she believe that she didn’t have cancer anymore? I prompted her on camera, thinking maybe she just said that because she had been saying it for so many months. I asked her about her recent doctor’s appointment. She then told me that they found something on her back, but it wasn’t cancer.

I looked at Jeanette and turned the camera off. It was time to have a heartbreaking chat with my daughter. As I explained that the growth on her back was a tumor, her smile faded and her eyes cast down. I made sure that she understood what a tumor was.

– So, that’s cancer?
– Yes.
– There’s cancer in my body again?
– Yes.
– Now, I have cancer in my back?
– Yes.

I wanted to cry. Maybe I should have cried. I was dumbfounded. All this time, Jordan hadn’t realized the monster was back. And, in a way, it all made sense. I understood why she had been handling it so well. She hadn’t put the pieces together. I had just changed her perspective in a way I couldn’t take back. I felt as though I had told her there was no Santa Claus, and suddenly felt silly for not having that conversation. Of course, her outlook is good, and there is every reason to be optimistic, but my heart sank as I watched my daughter take a psychological sucker punch to the gut.

She took a moment to process the information. She looked frightened and disappointed, but she didn’t cry either.

– So, I have to have chemo again?

I explained the options to her. We discussed how surgery might solve the problem. Then we talked about radiation. I told her chemo might be an option, too. We’d know after we met with the doctors. She listened well, and asked a few questions. After a few minutes she told us, “I kicked cancer’s butt once. I’ll just have to do it again.”