Some families enjoy having ceremonies to celebrate the end of cancer treatment.
Especially for younger children who have spent much of their lives taking pills and having procedures, ceremonies can help them grasp that it is truly over. Here are ideas from many families on how to commemorate this important occasion:
• Take "good-bye" pictures of the hospital and staff.
• Take a picture of your child taking his last pill.
• Give trophies to your child and siblings.
We had a big party during which my husband Scott stood up and called for everyone's attention. He gave a talk about how proud we were of Jeremy and handed him a big trophy. It had the victory angel on top and was engraved with "Jeremy, we are so proud of you and your victory. Love, Mom and Dad." We gave a plaque to his brother Jason for being the world's most supportive brother.
• Ask the clinic to present your child with a certificate.
• Let your child throw away or flush down the toilet all of the leftover pills.
We waited for six months to celebrate, because we just didn't feel safe until then. But on his six-month anniversary we had a "toilet flushing party." Shawn threw every pill, and poured the liquid meds, saline, and mineral oil down the toilet, and just flushed and laughed. It was such a howl, I really wished we had videotaped it.
• Throw a big party for friends and family.
Erica ended treatment in December, and we threw a big party at the church. We called it a "Celebration of Life." We invited all of the families that we had become so close to through the support group. We especially wanted the families who had lost their children to cancer, and they all came. My normally even-tempered husband gave a talk about Club Goodtimes (the support group) and how it was a club that no one ever wanted to join. When he talked about the many wonderful people we met there, his voice shook with emotion. Then the preacher prayed for the children who weren't with us. We ate a huge cake, and the children were entertained by a clown. It was both moving and fun.
We invited all of our friends and family to the park for "Tay's beating leukemia party." We had red and white balloons that we wrote on that said "Healthy red cells" and "Healthy white cells." We also had a round piñata that said "Leukemia" on it and one of the international symbols for "NO" drawn through it. The kids "beat" leukemia with a stick and candy came pouring out. We all had a good time. We also had black balloons that were "bad cells" that the kids sat on and popped. It was a well-attended party. We grilled outside, drank sodas, ate watermelon, played a little volleyball, and just had a great time.
When Joseph finished treatment he was in kindergarten. The kids had gone through almost an entire year with him. They had known all about his treatments and frequent hospitalizations and had talked as a group about it when we made a presentation to the class, and at other times as well. It seemed appropriate to have an "all done with treatment" celebration. We even had his two best friends who go to different schools come over to join us, and big brother Nate came down from his class to share in the fun.
It was a very joyous occasion, and we made it as much like a birthday party as we could. I made cupcakes and juice and we played games. A friend who leads the story hour at our children's bookstore came and did some songs and stories with the kids, and I even sent each classmate home with a treat bag. At the end, right before time to go home, Joseph pulled out several cans of his favorite hospital discovery, and the kids took turns blasting a shower of silly string on everyone else! We all clapped and cheered, and Joseph's wonderful teacher and I had a chance to have a good celebratory cry while the kids put on their things to go home. Clean-up wasn't too darn bad, and it meant a lot to all of us.
There's still a tiny remnant of green silly string on one of the fluorescent light fixtures, and my big second-grader likes to go down and admire it when he visits his old kindergarten teacher
If your child has been seeing a counselor, schedule a visit to talk about the accomplishment.
Have friends and family send congratulations cards.
Ask the surgeon to give your child her port or Hickman line.
I know that this may sound odd, but my 6-year-old daughter hated her port and talked incessantly about getting it out. She even told me that she was going to slice it out herself with a knife. I told her it would be better to wait until the doctors put her to sleep, but I promised her that she could have it after the operation to do with as she wished. That idea brought a smile to her face. She came out of the recovery room clutching a baggie with the port inside. Once we were home, she carried it around for weeks, jumped on it, hit it with a hammer, and finally cut it to pieces. That port really symbolized all of the painful things that had happened to her, and it made her feel better to hurt it back.
If consistent with your beliefs, have a religious ceremony of thanksgiving.
I preached the sermon at church after Kristin ended treatment. It was the first Sunday of Lent, and I related our experience to that. Other than that, we didn't celebrate, because it's still not over. We still have to go every month for blood work and need to be vigilant. Ending treatment was a big milestone, but it paled in comparison to having the line pulled. We all have so much more freedom: no more lines to flush, changing bandages, or wrapping up for baths and swimming.
All of the parents of children with leukemia in our community have become very close. When 9-year-old Brent finished his treatment, I called to congratulate him. He was so excited telling me about it, but then his voice started to shake and he cried when he told me, "My two aunts gave me a card with money inside to go to a motel with a pool for the weekend. They gave it to me because I had leukemia. Can you believe that?"
• Some parents do not feel comfortable celebrating the end of treatment. One mother described her feelings this way:
We did nothing because we knew so many kids who relapsed. I didn't even throw away the pills for a year because I didn't trust that we were really done.
As you have read so often in this book, every child, parent, and relative reacts differently to treatment. The differences do not matter. What is important is that you feel free to express your feelings, whatever they may be. You may be joyful, relieved, fearful or terrified, but end of treatment is emotionally charged for every member of the family.
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