"A Lion in The House" Documentary Discusses Coping with Childhood Cancer
Generally, I don’t avoid uncomfortable and unpleasant topics, especially when it comes to cancer. If anything, other people criticize me for being a little too “in your face” about confronting stark realities, such as life-threatening illnesses and death. However, there’s at least one chink in my armor, one subject I assiduously avoid as much as I possibly can in my choices of reading and viewing material. And that’s why I won’t be watching the highly acclaimed, two-part PBS documentary airing this week about children who have cancer and how their families cope, called “A Lion in the House”
I don’t want to watch children struggling and, in some cases, dying from cancer, no matter how beautifully portrayed by the documentary-makers who worked on it for six years. I can’t handle it. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. What makes me feel even worse about it, in this particular case, is that from what I’ve read, the couple who made the film has a daughter who suffered from a childhood cancer--although she’s doing okay now. And the mom partner of the documentary team was recently diagnosed with cancer herself.
Without subjecting myself to too much self-directed armchair analysis, I don’t think my reasons for avoiding children and cancer have anything to do with my own breast cancer experience; my aversion to the topic pre-dated it. I think it has a lot more to do with being a mother, and being unwilling to face the unthinkable, the suffering and potential loss of your beloved child. In fact, at my lowest points during my illness and recovery, I used to remind myself that things could be worse--it could be one of my children diagnosed with cancer, not me. I just don’t have that kind of courage.
I often think back to an incident during my illness. I was at a coffee shop commiserating with a friend about her child’s leukemia. The child was eight at the time. (A few weeks ago I watched her, vibrant and healthy, and get her high school diploma in the same ceremony as my daughter.) That day, her mom and I had a conversation that, in retrospect, can only be described as surreal, about chemotherapy and infusions and other terrible stuff. After a while, the young woman at the next table got up to leave, but came over to us and said, “I just want you both to know I wish you all the best.” I admired her for saying that, even though she was plainly eavesdropping. I realized how horrifying our conversation must have sounded, even to a stranger. And the whole time I was secretly thinking I would never, in a million years, have wanted to trade places with my friend.
So I won’t be watching “A Lion in the House,” but I commend it, sight unseen, to those of you who don’t have these issues. Feel free to email me and tell me your reactions to it.
Published On: June 23, 2006