I had a good laugh with my sister today. This last year has been a tough one for my family. My father Angelo, who was never supposed to die, died in June — of cancer. My youngest sister still pretends he is alive. I know that most people would suggest that she see a therapist — however, she has five sisters who are more than willing to help her. When we post a picture on Facebook of one of us, with a picture of Dad — young and healthy– Jenny asks, “Is that recent?”
Today I admitted to my middle sister that “I really am tired of growing up” and she (hoping to make me feel as though I am in good company) told me that my older sister said the same thing and had just worded it differently: “Aging is not for wimps”. We laughed.
If five grown women can go through this kind of mental gymnastics to cope with an illness of a loved one, imagine what a child could do in his mind, if left to surmise what is going on with his Mommy who is ill and losing her hair. Fortunately, one of our sisters- in-laws has a clean bill of mental health, something that we lack. She wrote a beautifully illustrated book dedicated to teaching children what is really happening when “Mommy loses her Hair”.
Cristen’s story begins with a small boy named Tony asking his Dad, “What is cancer Daddy?” Daddy patiently and lovingly answers all of Tony’s questions about Mommy. When Tony asks why Mommy is losing her hair, Daddy answers, “It means she is getting better.”
Cristen Cervellini-Calfo, the authorof When Mommy Loses Her Hair: It Means the Medicine is Working, utilizes her own experience as a young mother with breast cancer to help other women with children explain in a direct, yet subtle way what is happening to “Mommy”.
Everything about this book is peaceful. The whimsical charcoal and colored pencil drawings exude a needed calm against the anxiety a child might experience yet might not be able to verbalize. The illustrator, Marla Varni- Lloyd conveys in her drawings, “calm in the midst of a great storm”.
On the practical side, this book contains two pages of resources complete with phone numbers and web addresses. Less known but worthwhile organizations such as ”Kids Konnected”, and “Healing Well”, which Cristen found helpful are listed alongside of more familiar organizations such as “National Cancer Institute”.
Lastly, this book is a reflection of Cervellini Calfo’s strong Catholic Faith. Her “fiat”– “thy will be done” — did not cause her to turn inward, rather it caused her to create this beautiful book. She has used her experience with cancer to make life easier for other Mommies, Daddies and little Tony’s who are asking complex questions about cancer treatment.
(Originally published 2008.) © 2008 Carolyn Moebest