Laura has asked me to help her communicate with the community so she can focus on adjusting to her medications, being present with the kids, working part-time and adapting to her new reality as someone living with cancer. She is ever so grateful and appreciative of all your love, thoughts and support. She is feeling that she has a strong and caring team of friends and family who are present for her, Celia, Iker and Otto. She is also getting the best care and comprehensive support possible through the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
A boundary that Laura and I ask you to respect; the words that will be shared with you on Caring Bridge are exclusively for adults. I wear many hats in the community, but I am writing this as Laura’s friend and as one of Celia, Iker and Otto’s advocates, not just as their teacher. If you are a parent of a child at Samish Woods, know that the teachers will do what they do best. They will create classrooms where students have a haven to focus on their growth, while seeing the countless possibilities the world offers. Please understand the difference in roles. In the role of helping Laura communicate with the community, I will swear, fret, feel uncomfortable, and will struggle to understand how to best support Laura, just as you will.
I can share no words that will adequately express the absolute flood of emotions that will be a part of this process for us as individuals and as a community who loves the Weight family. This process will bring up different things for all of us based on who we are and how we are connected to Laura and the kids. We have a part in this process and it will affect and likely change each one of us. Cancer is not something we can control, but we can control how we respond. Laura needs our support in a diversity of ways. There is no doubt about this; despite the fact that Laura is fiercely independent, somewhat brash at times, and frankly, sucks at asking for help. Part of the trick here will be establishing some norms so Laura and the kids get the support they need, the community stays informed, and Laura has the space to do this her way.
Laura has been diagnosed with lung cancer that has metastasized to her lymph nodes and brain. As far as good news goes in the world of terminal cancer diagnoses, this was caused by a mutation to the EGFR gene. This is an area of cancer research that is exploding and Laura's oncologist is one of the main researchers in this area. Laura’s current treatment is an oral chemo medication taken home. Side effects are minimal and manageable. Laura will get scans every 3 months to monitor the medication’s effectiveness. On average, people on this drug get benefits of reduced and stable tumors for about 18 months to two years. When the medication stops working, Laura and her oncologist will look at other options. Those might include immunotherapy or a combination of radiation and chemo or a clinical trial of some new drug. There is reality and hope at play here. Hope for the best and accept the reality that exists today.
Otto, Celia and Iker are doing well and enjoying summer with friends and family. They have all grown up exponentially in the past few weeks. Laura’s cancer triggers issues around Eric’s death, understandably. Each kid needs something different, but overall they need to just be kids and live their lives. Laura is working on downsizing her work and her life in order to give her energy to the kids first and anything else, second.
It is important for parents to have accurate information and understand how to communicate with and support children. Take the time to prepare yourself for the conversations that will may develop within your family. Also know that every child will have different needs and questions. The most important thing you can do is to be present, listen and respond to your child based on their needs and developmental level, and not respond based on your emotions when you are not feeling grounded. Here are two links to start with: https://www.cancercare.org/tagged/children.
And Age appropriate cancer conversations (http://www.tellingkidsaboutcancer.com/AgeAppropriateAdvice
Please also understand that the Weight kids get their information from Laura only, and that you should be thoughtful in what you share with your children. Take your time, listen well, and create spaces for questions and conversations, but do not overprocess with your children based on your feelings. THE CHILDREN KNOW THAT LAURA HAS CANCER IN HER LUNG AND LYMPH NODES AND SHE IS TAKING MEDICATION TO DEAL WITH IT. THAT IS ALL THE WEIGHT CHILDREN KNOW. THEREFORE, THAT IS ALL YOUR CHILDREN SHOULD KNOW.
Just as there are no words that can capture the range of emotions that will surround this process, there is no end to the questions that will swirl within us as individuals and within our community. How long will Laura live? What will happen to the kids? Why is this happening? Are there clinical trials to consider? What about alternative treatments? Who is mowing the lawn? Does this prove the world is a cold, dark place? What the fuck? The reality of it is that for every question we are struggling with, Laura is juggling ten. Laura is totally focused, and at times, understandably overwhelmed from dealing with this process with all her intellect and heart so her kids are supported in the present and the future.
Laura, with help, will navigate this in a way that reflects her love for her children and her community. The best we can do is balance giving her space and support. Laura does not need to feel compelled to respond to all of our heart emoji laced texts (I’ve sent a couple myself), our truly wise and caring emails (I’ve attempted and failed to say wise shit to her, too) or the abundance of offers and playdates for the kids. Laura totally appreciates and loves all of us, but cannot, and should not attempt to help us feel better or make any sense of this. Please be aware that sometimes our own desire to connect and support Laura can be more about our own needs and unintentionally burden her - just be mindful and trust that Laura appreciates all the offers of help and will respond when she needs you.
To do our part effectively, we need to take care of ourselves and one another. Please take some time to think about what you can do to take care of yourself and focus your energy in a positive way. Get strong by hiking, knit furiously, go drink too much beer with dear friends one night, cry in the woods, take up kick-boxing, realize you have no damn control in life so live it with purpose and abandon, mope for a day, be miserable from 9 pm to 11 pm every other day, volunteer, play with your kids more, become more self-reflective, create rich and meaningful conversations with your friends.... One of the keys is for us, as individuals and as a community, to take care of our own needs, grief and sadness in healthy ways so we can be present and our best selves for one another and the Weights when they need us. This is our work as Laura’s support system, and it will be ongoing with twists and turns that will challenge all of us in unexpected ways. Just as we will hang in the background ready to help Laura as she navigates living with cancer, we need to support one another, be patient, and accept that we will all deal with this in our own ways.
The way through will be for us to find strength as individuals, while embracing the deep love and care that define the community that Laura, Celia, Iker and Otto help create.
- Jon Durham (Laura’s friend and occasional mouthpiece)