Now, Joshua's father Michael has written a book titled Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal. Ironically, that's exactly what he was working on when Joshua was diagnosed with cancer. However, this book is drastically different from the original book he anticipated writing. Cancer changes you. It changes how you see life, your loved ones, and God.
When Michael asked me if I would be willing to read his book and write a review, I said I would be honored. He sent me the PDF and I asked him to give me a week to read it. Two days later, I was done. As a cancer mom, it brought back a lot of raw emotions and memories for me. As a Christian who has been through life's struggles, it made me nod my head in agreement... "Yes! I have felt that way! I have felt alone and scared and wondering what's next. And I have seen God's hand at work... through the good and the bad... sometimes through things I'll never understand. I get it."
Michael also agreed to do an interview about his book with me... you can read that below.
RG: I really loved your book. As you know, we walked very similar journeys at the same time, in the same hospital. I too was pregnant when Kennedy was diagnosed. There were so many spots that I found myself smiling and nodding, and other times I found myself crying as I read. The grief process you went through after diagnosis, we also endured. Sadness, anger, fear, questioning why… we were sent TONS of books from friends about cancer, about God’s plan for our lives, etc. I’m sure you did to. Besides the Bible, what one book helped you the most to calm your heart, and maybe make you feel like you weren't alone?
MK: This is a great question - one which I wish I had a better answer for. But for me (and I think for Jana, too, because I just asked her), we didn't read much in order to help us deal with the difficulty. We read more for escape, so both of us read a lot of fiction during that time. But it's funny how that even in fiction, which is not about cancer at all, that you're drawn back to that sense of reality. So I remember reading again The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and being struck again with the childlike wonder the kids had for Aslan the Lion. And wanting that renewed in me, especially during this very difficult time.
RG: You quoted a lot of great Bible verses and talked about stories of people who can relate to the pain we endured through our child’s cancer treatment. Which one meant the most to you?
MK: The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: Jesus wept. That became so meaningful to me because it's a promise that Jesus isn't isolated or separate from the pain of humanity. He's intensely and intimately involved. He weeps with us. Laughs with us. Maybe even more than us. Hard to imagine, but true - We are loved by a very emotional God.
RG: You said that before Joshua was diagnosed, you were a stay at home dad, working on a book. I assume that book would have been drastically different from this one. What was it about, and will you still be writing it?
MK: Still working on it. It was just a sketch of a short story that might become something sometime. It's funny, though, how an experience like childhood cancer has a way of coloring most everything that you do. I suspect that if I do write more that I might always have to write from the perspective of someone walking through that difficulty.
RG: What do you think is the most important lesson God taught you through Joshua’s cancer diagnosis?
MK: This is hard, too, because I don't really think we've fully learned any of these things. We're still learning them - still having to be reminded of them day after day. Maybe, though, we're a little further along than we are now. I think we are learning that pain is kind of the common denominator of humanity. Everyone has experienced some form of disappointment or suffering. The question, then, isn't so much whether we will hurt; it's more about what we will do when we are hurt.
RG: It was very bittersweet for me to read the section about Charlie. We were/are also very close to his family. His was the second Vandy funeral I went to and there were many, many after that. Like you, there were times, on my dark days, when I wondered what we would have in Kennedy’s service, should the time come. Do you see those thoughts as a lack of faith, or just keeping in touch with reality? After all, none of our kids up there had secure futures…
MK: True. Very true. I think it's pretty natural to have those thoughts. And I don't think it reveals a lack of faith. The question (sort of like the question of pain above) isn't so much whether you will have doubts and fears; it's more about what you do with them. Do you repress them? Do you hide them? Do you deny them? Or do you actually talk to Jesus about them? If you choose the latter, then even though you're doubting, you are in a sense believing. You are trusting Jesus enough - so much in fact - to tell Him about your doubts and fears. Ironic, right?
RG: Like you, were told by well-meaning friends, and I know other 6th floor families were also told, that if we just prayed hard enough, if our children would eat the right foods, if we would give them certain vitamins, then they would be cured. However, what about the kids who didn’t get their cure until Heaven? I know they had just as many people praying for them, all over the world, I know these parents did everything possible to keep their children here. What DO you say to these well meaning people who encourage you to just pray more or to have more faith?
MK: I usually tried to be polite. More times than not, those words came from someone who didn't know what it was like to have a really sick kid, and they were just fumbling around trying to find the right thing to say. They didn't realize the implications or the burden of what they were really saying. I think a better option for encouragement, though, might be to say nothing at all. And to instead, practice the ministry of presence. Be there. Weep. Laugh. Embrace. Don't offer trite explanations. Emotionally invest.
RG: You said towards the end, that Joshua going OFF chemo was very scary for you. You said that it’s never over. We feel the same way… no matter how much faith you have, no matter how many people tell us how relieved we must feel, there’s always that nagging in my mind when Kennedy sleeps too long or gets a strange bruise on the playground, I can’t help but wonder what her platelets are right then. The word relapse is always in the back of our minds, and I know that other cancer families feel the same way. Do you think this is a sign of NOT having enough faith? I feel like I KNOW that God will take care of our family, all of us, but what if His plan is different than mine?
MK: I think that's a completely natural fear. It's certainly one I have. And I've been told by others it gets better with time, as most things do. But it's also helpful to remember that Jesus told us not to worry with tomorrow. The reason we don't have to worry about tomorrow isn't because something bad won't happen tomorrow. It really might. We don't have to worry because when tomorrow gets here, there will be enough grace for us to deal with what it holds. On the day Joshua was diagnosed, I had no idea we would be sitting at the children's hospital at noon. But I also had no idea that the Lord had given me enough grace to make it through that day. It encourages me to think that tomorrow - regardless of what it holds, and though I can't see how I would get through doing it all again - that God will still be faithful to provide what grace I need then, too.
RG: Now that Joshua is seven, how much does he understand about what he went through so many years ago? You mentioned that him being so young was a blessing. He didn’t really understand what was happening to his little body and it didn’t disrupt his life too much (compared to, say, a teenager). Does he understand now, and does it worry him when clinic time rolls around?
MK: He understands it more and more. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that he realized that everyone didn't have a port implanted in their chest! But knowing that he doesn't remember all of it really increases the responsibility that Jana and I feel, because we are truly the caretakers of this story. He will only remember what we want him to remember. So God has seen fit for us to decide how much or how little of this he knows about. That's pretty weighty. But we feel like it's part of stewarding this story well to help him understand just how good and faithful God has been, and to see that, he also has to see that he was really, really sick.
RG: If you could tell a parent, whose child was just diagnosed with cancer, ONE thing, what would it be?
MK: I'm not sure I would tell them anything. I think I would want to pray for them, and then bring them dinner. That's it. Maybe after a few months, I might tell them some other stuff.
RG: If you could tell those people who are supporting a family whose child was just diagnosed with cancer one thing NOT to say to that family, what would it be?
MK: I'm sure you have read some fascinating things on the internet about cancer. Please don't share those things. Or at least don't share those things unless your friend brings them up. They've got enough on their minds.
RG: Thank you so much for writing this very real, honest book. You put into words a lot of the emotions we were feeling through Kennedy’s treatment as well. I know a lot of my readers will want to know, when is the release date for your book, and will it be available for Kindle?
MK: The release date is March 1. Yep - should be available for Kindle.