Teens and Cancer: Happy Birthday, Channing

Phyllis Johnson Health Guide

    Happy Birthday, Channing!

     Today my son Channing is 31 years old.  Now well-established in his chosen career as a free-lance photographer, he is married and expects to become a homeowner next week. 

     Thirteen years ago he was a typical teen having fun with his friends.  On his 18th birthday, I was a month out from my radical mastectomy and in the middle of the Adriamycin/Cytoxan phase of my chemotherapy.  I was too exhausted to be much of a mother to him.  Some nights I managed to get some supper together; some nights we ate my husband's cooking.  Channing was active in a drama group, and although I made it to most of his performances, I must admit that about 30 minutes into each one, my energy and attention would flag.

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     But an 18th birthday is a big deal, and on his sister's 18th birthday, I had taken her out to coffee and a talk about becoming a "legal" adult.  So I gathered every speck of energy and took him on an 18th birthday outing.  I don't remember all the details.  I remember taking him into the library to register to vote and swinging by the post office to get his selective service registration forms.  The end of July in Missouri is hot, so I was probably wearing just a scarf to keep my bald head from burning. If he was mortified by being seen in public with a bald mother, he hid it well.


     Being a teenager and having a sick mother cannot be fun.  Our daughter was there to help me pick out a wig, but during most of my illness, she was away at college.  Channing was the one stuck at home when the phone call came with the dread news from the biopsy.  We tried not to give him more chores than he had before I got sick, but he had to pick up some of the slack to keep the household running.  I wanted him to get to be a kid, but when the doctor said I needed to go the hospital right away to find out what caused a sudden, severe headache, Channing had to drive me to the hospital and wait until his father got there to take over the responsibility. 

     I'm not sure how going through the cancer experience affected Channing.  When we talk about it now, he has very few specific memories of that time period.  He remembers himself as a self-absorbed teenager and wishes he had been more present for me.  His father and I just wanted him to be able to be a self-absorbed teen like every other kid.  Nevertheless, I think our family shares a certain closeness founded on the realization that at the time of my diagnosis most people with inflammatory breast cancer died within three years.  Both our children show a special compassion for those in need.

     On Channing's 18th birthday, I was still very worried about whether I would live to see his 20th birthday.  Sharing those steps into adulthood were very poignant for me because I didn't know if I would be there for the next big ones.  This year I'm sharing his 31st birthday with family and friends at the beach.

    Channing, I wish cancer hadn't barged into our life, but it did and maybe it molded you in mainly good ways. I'm so proud of the man you have become.  Happy birthday!


Published On: July 29, 2011