I always answer my cell phone when I don't recognize the number. Sorry mom, I know you've heard my voicemail a time or two. But nine times out of ten, if I don't recognize the number, there's someone on the other end of the line who is in desperate need of help. They typically need two things, help getting in to see a sarcoma specialist and help understanding what this disease is. I have ducked out of weddings, thrown experiments in the biohazard box, and excused myself from dinner countless times in order to answer an unidentified number. What I never stopped to consider was the effect that all this talking would have on my kids.
My nine year old daughter brought it home for me last year though. We were driving on the highway when my phone rang. I drive a 2007 minivan with almost 200k Massachusetts miles on it. In other words, it makes more noise than Fenway when Jeter was at bat. Needless to say, I needed to roll up the windows, turn down the music and focus keenly on the voice that was stuttering through their tears on the other end. My words were sobering and often morbid. Her brother was in a very advanced stage of the disease and she needed help overcoming the guilt associated with being a helpless caregiver. She needed reassurance that there was nothing she could do at that point. She needed to know that reaching out for help made her an outstanding sister, regardless of what was so clearly out of her control.
Charly heard things like, "Are his bleeding ulcers exposed?", and "I'm so very sorry, but I've never known anyone who lived beyond this point" and "Yes, I also have this same disease, but there's no evidence of it...right now" and "I'm so very sorry, I wish there was something, anything I could do to help."
I put the phone down after twenty minutes or so, wiped the tears from my eyes and turned the radio back on. Charly said to me, "Mom, I wish your phone never rang". I was instantly overcome by guilt like never before. In the split second between her lamenting and my apology, all of the calls came flooding back. How many did she hear? What have I said in front of her? How irresponsible am I to have my child hear the details of how cruel this disease is? She hears that it's the same disease that I have? That I could die too???? I was about to pull over and award myself the mother of the year trophy when she interrupted my apology with, "No mom, I'm not upset. it's just that if your phone didn't ring so much, it would mean that less people were sick".