Jane Roper

Writer. Blogger. Hater of Olives.

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What, Me Worry?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 9.10.17 AMA couple of weeks ago, Clio had a cold. And it was awesome.

I was away at a brief writing retreat at one of my all-time favorite getaways, and Alastair texted to say that Clio had some sort of rash — the itchy kind that seemed to move around a bit. So, in other words, hives. But, we assured ourselves, they weren’t the isolated, fast-growing, raised ones that she experienced in the few days before her diagnosis.

The next day, though, the hives persisted. And the following morning, she woke up with a fever. No other symptoms — no stuffy nose or sore throat.

Cue panic.

One of our big worries as Clio approached the end of her treatment, over a year ago (!), was that any time she had any little blip on her healthy kid radar — a fever, an ache or pain, a nosebleed, a headache — we would freak out, convinced that she was relapsing. Surprisingly, this didn’t really happen. In part because she never had any symptoms that I couldn’t rationalize away as being the sort of thing any kid might have from time to time.

True, I had to speak to my inner worry-wart a little more firmly in the case of the nosebleeds (turns out the kid was just picking her nose to excess) but other than that, this post-treatment transition hasn’t been nearly as stressful as I feared, at least not in terms of health worries.

But hives combined with a fever — yeah, that set the worry-wheel spinning for sure, for the first time. I tried and tried to get myself to back away from the ledge, convince myself that it was nothing, but I was preoccupied enough that I had a tough time concentrating. And when I sat down to do my morning work on my novel — which involved childhood cancer — I closed my laptop and said, aloud, “no way.”

I found myself imagining, in spite of my best efforts not to, what might happen to our family’s life if Clio relapsed — our life which is so very settled and ordinary and happy these days.

It would implode. I would be shattered. I do not know how in God’s name I could go through all that again — the hospital, the procedures, the chemo, my child suffering — with the knowledge that this time there was more risk that Clio wouldn’t get through to the other side.

I kept telling myself, don’t go there, don’t go there. But it was like walking along a precipice. You can’t help looking over the edge.

We called the clinic, and they told us to call Clio’s pediatrician if we were concerned. (Damn them! What did they think we were? Normal people??) So we called the pediatrician, and he was able to see us that afternoon.

I love our pediatrician. We switched to him after Clio was diagnosed, because we’d been so frustrated with our previous pediatrician, who we feel like did not take our concerns seriously. He’s the colleague of a good friend, and he totally understands and does not belittle our concerns, and is familiar with the world of pediatric oncology.

He took one look at Clio’s throat and nose and said, “she’s got a virus.” (Hives can occasionally be viral in nature, and looking back, I remembered another time Clio had hives once out of the blue, as a toddler, before developing a cold.) He tested for strep. (Negative.) Treatment: rest and fluids.

I drove Clio home feeling like an anvil had been lifted from my chest. I had the fleeting sensation of being back in our life BC — our sweet, ordinary little life when the girls were four and five, no cancer, no scars.

A cold!! My healthy, vibrant, eight-year-old, piano-less0n-taking, silly-song-composing, Pokemon-card-collecting daughter had a cold.

What a beautiful, beautiful thing.

(And I caught her cold! But who cared?)

Praise be to the cancer gods, for turning their ugly heads from us. Remind me to pick up a free-range, sacrificial goat next time I’m at Whole Foods.


10 Good Reasons to Play Hooky


For the second year in a row, we forced our daughters into truancy for the first week of school.

Well, actually, we didn’t have to do much forcing. They willingly agreed to it.

The thing is, every year since Alastair was four years old, he and his family have spent the week before Labor Day at Sandy Island, a YMCA family camp in New Hampshire, on Lake Winnipesaukee. When people ask me to describe it, my quick version is “like the place in Dirty Dancing, except way more rustic, and no dance classes with Johnny Castle, alas.”

The slightly longer version is that it’s summer camp for grown-ups: You stay in a cabin (with your family), you have to walk outside to get to the lav, you eat your meals in a dining hall, and can do things ranging from swimming to crafts to tennis to frisbee golf to boating to  just sitting by the lake and reading your heart out (my favorite). What’s extra cool about the place is that the same families tend to come back for the same week, year after year. So going there is really part vacation, part reunion.

I’ve been going with Alastair to Sandy ever since we were college sweethearts, aeons ago, and have only missed a handful of weeks in all that time: twice when we were “on a break” and twice when we were living in Iowa. Even during the first summer of Clio’s treatment, Alastair and I each managed to go up for a couple of days, tag-teaming, while Elsa stayed there the whole time.

It’s a wonderful tradition – something we, and now the girls, look forward to every year. So you can imagine our annoyance when, last year, we moved to a town where school starts before Labor Day. Continue reading


Family Bear Night and Other 8-Year-Old Delights

FullSizeRender-7I love having 8-year-olds. I mean, yes, the number itself sort of makes me cringe, because MY BABIES! Where have my babies gone?!! They’re about to move from the k-2 grouping, which still has a toe in little-kid-dom, to the 3-5 realm, which is solidly big-kid territory — and the last gasp of childhood before (gulp) adolescence.

But for the moment, they’re at an age that straddles the imaginative sweetness of early childhood and the feisty independence and intellectual blossoming of later childhood that totally rocks.

Case in point: Family Bear Night.

Clio came up with this idea a couple of months ago. I think maybe it was on a Taco Tuesday (or Wednesday or Thursday, as our taco nights tend not to stick to a certain night). Tacos are a new addition to our dinner meal rotation. The girls had them at a friend’s house a while back, and begged me to make them, so after hemming and hawing a bit, I did, and you know what? Tacos are awesome. Old school with the kit and those hard shells and everything, just like Mom used to buy, with the modern twist of grass-fed sustainable blah blah blah beef because the environment. (Don’t start telling me how great tofu and kale tacos are or whatever. Seriously. Give me this one thing.)

Back to family bear night. When Clio brought it up and we said, “huh?” she explained that Family Bear Night meant having gummi bears for dessert, and “other bear stuff.” Our endearment for Clio has always been “Clio-bear” or just “bear” so I think she feels a special bond with these animals. But this Bear Night concept was pretty hazy, and we thought it would kind of fizzle out.

It didn’t, though. Clio kept pushing us to set a date, we kept pushing for details, and eventually it all came together.

Elsa created the decor, and a game of Pin the Fish in the Bear’s Mouth, which was a big hit. (Note natural leaf-crafted holder for the paper fish.)



After that, we played the Bear Board Game Clio had made. We each chose a bear pawn — Joe Bear, Bob Bear, Fred Bear, or Steve Bear — and whoever’s bear got to its cave first won. The fact that each bear’s path had a slightly different number of spaces only added to the fun of this lively and unpredictable game.



The dinner menu, which I’d planned with Clio’s input, included salmon (Obviously), a salad with blueberries, and gnocchi on the side, because Clio says it’s the pasta that most resembles bears, since it’s round. I noted that gnocchi also look a little like Winnie the Pooh’s honey pots. (Work with us here, people.) There were gummi bears and Teddy Grahams for dessert.



Alastair had gotten some movies from the library that featured bears, and the girls chose the movie Bears, which we watched after dinner. Along with some bears from the girls’ overBEARingly large collections of stuffed animals.



I think it’s fair to say that a BEAR-y good time was had by all.

See, I don’t think Family Bear night would have happened when the girls were six or maybe not even seven, given the complexity and forethought it required — not to mention the energy and enthusiasm, which Clio was shorter on while she was in treatment.  But I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing that will happen when they’re sophisticated, bear-weary ten-or-eleven-year-olds, either.

Meanwhile: There are kid-built fairy houses in the little strip of woods behind our house, occasional “restaurants” in service in the living room, serving plastic pretend food and accepting play credit cards or cash, and scenarios being played out in the dollhouse with squinkies and Littlest Pet Shop figures.

But there is also pop music on the radio in the car, middle-grade chapter books being devoured during reading time each day, Pokemon cards being compared, swardrobe preferences being expressed. When friends are over to play, I’m barely (Bearly) involved, except when I’m needed to supply snacks or hook up the sprinkler.

This is what it means to have eight-year-olds for us: A delightful mix of whimsy and imagination, ingenuity and creativity, and growing independence, with a touch of tween. There’s also still plenty of whining and talking back and intra-sibling-bickering and everything else that comes with having kids. But there are fewer headaches and hassles than there used to be, it seems. And a lot less stupid dumb cancer, too, which is a nice touch.

Here’s to a few more sweet years before they hit puberty and start hating me. (Sigh.)



So, my kid had cancer recently, and…

Nothing to see here. Just your typical, all-American family vacation.

Nothing to see here. Just your typical, all-American family vacation.

One of the odd things about life post-cancer-treatment, I’m finding, is navigating when and when not to reveal what our family just went through to people I don’t know well.

I mean, it was always a little tricky to know how or if to drop the C-bomb. But when Clio was in treatment it was such a big part of our lives that it was hard to avoid. It was part of what we did and who we were, so if the fact of Clio’s cancer was relevant to the conversation, I didn’t shy away from mentioning it. And, obviously, I blabbed about it willy nilly all over the internets.

Now, though, it’s less clear. Is bringing it up worth the explanations and reassurances (“she’s doing great!!”) it requires? Is it worth the potential discomfort for me and/or other people? Do I need to say something about it, or do I want to? And if so, why? (Or why not?)

Anyway, it leads to funny internal dialogues with myself.

Example: Recently, we were at a social event with families of kids our girls go to school with — people we’ve met just this year — and people got to talking about trips they’d taken to Disney World. As you may recall, we also took a trip to Disney World not too long ago — a trip we almost definitely wouldn’t have taken if Clio hadn’t had the opportunity to wish upon a star and alla that.

So I’m sitting there sipping my beer, and something kind of like this is happening inside my head:

Me: Should I join in this fun and entertaining conversation about Disney World that people are having?

Also me: Why shouldn’t you? You guys went to Disney World, right? Continue reading



A house in our neighborhood, last month. Spring is inevitable.

A house in our neighborhood, last month. Spring is inevitable.

A couple of weeks ago I took the girls to the poster decorating party for the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge partner program — the program through which Clio’s ass-kicking partner runner Katelin is running her fourth marathon this year to raise money for cancer research. (Help her reach her goal!) We’ve gone to the poster party the past couple of years, and it’s fun for the girls, and there’s cookie decorating (which should really be called put a cookie under a giant hunk of frosting and sprinkles and candy and jimmies).

But we skipped the other event — a partner “meet-up” party — that’s part of the whole DFMC partner program, and are skipping the next one, too: a big banquet the day before the marathon to honor the runners and the patients and the partner patients who have passed away  — which includes a slideshow of the faces of now-dead children. I guess it’s supposed to  make people feel fired-up and verklempt and resolute in their commitment to raising money and running 26.2 miles. But you can imagine the effect it has on the many parents of children with cancer — both still here and not — in the audience. The first year I went, while Clio was back at the hospital, I spent most of that slideshow staring at the napkin in my lap. (And, you know, then the finish line got bombed the next day. So there was that.)

We are, however, planning to go watch the marathon at mile 25 again, and give Katelin hugs when she runs past. I’ve always loved watching the marathon, for as long as I’ve lived in Boston, and Elsa loves it too. (Clio, honestly, could take it or leave it, but she’s a good sport!)

But back to that poster party: There was a little girl there, decorating her poster next to us. A little girl with a fuzz of post-chemo hair and a turned up nose and chubby steroid cheeks and a sweet smile and she reminded me so much of the Clio of a year or so ago. I got tearful, and I had to go to the bathroom and collect myself.

What is that surge of emotion about? I can’t quite put a finger on it. It’s a strange mix of nostalgia (how sweet and resilient and brave she was through all of it; what a sense of purpose and clarity we had) and sadness and pain.

I think now that we’re farther away from it all, no longer in the high seas of our crappy little boat trip, it hits me in a way that’s almost closer to the way it hit when Clio was first diagnosed. The fear isn’t there the way it was then, but the pain and even a little shock are. A feeling of: what the f— just happened??

It rises up in both expected and unexpected moments. Yesterday we were over at Children’s for a follow-up meeting on neuropsych testing Clio had down (more on that later), and as we were waiting to go in, I looked out the window and could see across to another wing of the hospital, and saw crayon drawings and words on kids’ hospital room windows; saw toys sitting on the sills. Little kid scribbles and stuffed animals; teenage peace signs and books. I saw a couple of parents through the windows. I remembered what that was like, living in those rooms — the worry, the tedium, the paradoxical sense of powerlessness and determination. The grieving for life before.

Before, before, before.

Continue reading

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