The other day while at a park with Ryan, I had the most disturbing interaction with another child. A little boy who was probably seven or eight was running around with a large stick shouting, “I will kill you! I will kill you with this stick!” It was alarming for two reasons: one he had no parents present – as far as I could tell - and two, I have never heard those words (with that tone) from any little boys I know. He did not say this directly to Ryan, but at one point he ran towards him intently with his self proclaimed weapon. I instinctively picked Ryan up faster than an Olympian, my body language communicating quite clearly, “You touch this child and you will die.” Thankfully after I told him that was not appropriate behavior here (or anywhere) he dropped the stick and wandered off.
As he made his way to the other side of the playgound, I continued to watch him. And as I did a strange thing happened. I felt like I was losing my mind (an ongoing theme) because I started to see him as a cell – like he was cancer itself. Those words taunting me over and over, “I will kill you… I will kill you… I will kill you…“, taking me back to the reality that I could not protect Ben. That cancer had flagrantly moved through his body like an evil little unsupervised child, behaving in a way which was demonstrative. I could put my literal body between Ryan and this child. But I could not do that for Ben. And some days that helplessness still sends me into a rage.
Rage is very accessible feeling for me. Maybe it is for all mothers – but especially for moms of dead children. And in a moment my heart was beating crazy fast. I wanted to scream out loud at the top of my lungs, “**** you Cancer! **** you for taking my son! You have messed with the wrong ****ing Mom.” If this little boy had actually been the disease itself I would have killed him with my own hands. Sadly now, I know lots of moms who would have backed me up. Kind, beautiful, smart, loving moms that would have done anything to save their child. That is how fiercely a mother desires to protect her kids – and how maddening it is when you cannot. When something so evil and so destructive creeps into your baby’s body and there is nothing you can do except pray that the chemotherapy will do its job. But sometimes it can’t. Some cancers are too resistant – as was the case with Ben’s neuroblastoma.
Anger is one of the hardest elements of grief because there aren’t many socially acceptable ways of working it out. Most days I am able to contain it – I am trying to channel it productively with our foundation and the work we are doing. But it is difficult because what you want to do sometimes is hurt someone or something – to cause damage equal to the damage that has been done to your heart. Yet I know I could never achieve that. For I still wouldn’t feel any better because Ben is gone. Instead, I would probably get arrested and jailed – spending the remainder of my life with neither of my children, dressed in orange with bad hair.
I know I can’t get to cancer myself – that I cannot inflict my wrath upon it personally. But I now know scientists who can. They are the ones who are going to take this fury and our crazy need to destroy this disease into the lab and figure it out. And then there will be a day in the future when even cancers like neuroblastoma will not be able hide, for they are going to teach children’s bodies how to kill it themselves – one cell at a time.