Cooper DeWitt in hospital

Jenni DeWitt's husband, Justin, with their two sons during youngest son, Cooper's, cancer treatment.

When my son was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t cry. Not at first, anyhow.

In fact, I didn't cry for several weeks while my husband coped with the horrible words, “Your son has cancer.”

The whole thing was backward to me. My husband has always been the rock in our relationship. I’m the leaner. How could I be the one standing firm?

But it was as if my brain refused to process. It wasn’t my time yet. Right now I had to be the strong one.

Before long, my husband found his footing again. When he was doing better, something clicked in my brain. The denial I’d been gifted with faded, and my brain let me — or made me — cope with the reality that my son had cancer.

I cried. Melted down. Had anxiety attacks.

Still, mostly I was OK. Most days I functioned at a reasonable enough level to help our family survive.

Over time, as the three years of our son’s cancer treatment drug on, things started to level out. We found our balance and some sort of twisted version of normal.

When treatment ended and Cooper was finally healthier, it was as if my brain said, “OK, here we go. Now we're going to start opening emotional drawers and dealing with the real hard stuff.”

I'd been in survival mode during treatment. Now it was time to learn to live again. So I sifted through drawers of emotions that I thought I’d closed years ago. Sometimes I opened them myself. Other times I needed the help of a psychologist or a spiritual director.

The brain is an amazing tool — the final frontier in the medical field. Its capacity to compartmentalize so we can deal with trauma is simultaneously spectacular and terrifying.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if I had some form of post-traumatic stress disorder after Cooper’s treatment ended. Maybe I did. I’ll probably never know.

But it’s been six years now since my son was diagnosed with cancer and three years since his treatment ended. And things are getting better.

Each year the anniversary hurts a little less. The memories feel a little more distant.

My son grows a little bit taller and gets a little wiser. His natural kindness and heart for people shine a little bit brighter.

And although childhood cancer never really feels like it's over for a cancer parent, we’re beginning to start to heal.


Jenni DeWitt is married and has two sons, the youngest of whom battled childhood leukemia – and won. Jenni writes weekly for She is the author of "Forty Days" and "Why Won't God Talk to Me?" You can read more about Jenni here.

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