Most of us strive to raise a successful well-balanced child. This process becomes more complicated when the home environment is unstable or has the threat of not remaining stable, such as in a divorce or when a parent has cancer. My wife Cecelia and I were forced to deal with this situation while raising our daughter, Patrice, after my cancer diagnosis. In spite of our uncertain environment, Patrice’s social, mental, spiritual, and academic well-being never suffered. Her ability to adapt was put on full display when she finished Harvard College & Emory Medical School, even though I was ill. Patrice is now a successful resident physician.
Sometimes Cecelia and I are asked how we raised a successful well-balanced child? It truly has to do with encouraging the love of learning and keeping her connected to her roots.
“It truly has to do with encouraging the love of learning and keeping her connected to her roots.”
Having a child is a great joy. Cecelia became pregnant with Patrice in 1989 while I was an Army captain stationed in Scranton, Pennsylvania. We were very excited about the pregnancy and purchased a few books on parenting. One of the books mentioned how important it was to do the right things to help your child learn even before birth, like playing classical music. I didn’t know much about classical music but I bought a cassette tape of Tchaikovsky and played it to Patrice every night before she was born. As time went on, we purchased more books. One very instrumental book was by Dr. James Comer, MD and Dr. Alvin Poussaint, MD called “Raising Black Children.” This book influenced our decision not to incorporate spanking in our child-rearing.
The day I brought Patrice home from the hospital, I looked at her as the car seat swallowed up her tiny frame, and I realized parenting was going to be a big responsibility. Cecelia said Patrice begun to recognize when I came home each day and recognized the sound of me sticking the key in the door. As she got older, Patrice would ease back off the bed and crawl to the door to wait for me. Before she could walk, Patrice knew she was the apple of her daddy’s eye. Every baby girl in the world should feel this way.
We talked to Patrice as if she understood us and we started to read to Patrice when she was barely one-year-old. When Patrice was 18-months, I was reassigned to Fort Monroe, Virginia. I worked long hours. Cecelia was a stay at home mom. This locale presented loads of opportunity for exploration and enrichment. Cecelia would take Patrice to storytime hour at the Hampton Library next to Hampton University. Her days were filled with field trips and cultural exposure. We always took the opportunity to broaden her horizon and expose her to something new. She developed a natural curiosity and a love for learning at a very early age.
In July 1994, When Patrice was four, I was reassigned to Michigan. That fall she started Kindergarten. She enjoyed going to school. In fact, she asked why kids could not go to school on Saturdays too. She enjoyed playing in the neighborhood with the other military kids and also playing with her American Girl doll, Addy. I was on the post’s chess team and I taught Patrice how to play chess as well.
Right after the Christmas holidays, in 1995, I went to the doctor to get the results of some tests I had done before earlier that month. The doctor told me the tests showed that I had chronic myeloid leukemia. The prognosis was three years to live, unless a bone marrow donor could be found. This was a big problem because I am African American. The most likely donor would be African American and there are very few African American donors on the marrow registry.
I decided to be very public about my cancer battle and started organizing bone marrow drives. At these drives, potential marrow donors had to give a blood sample. Patrice was acutely aware that her dad was sick and needed something called a marrow-match. At one marrow drive, Patrice stated with the medical expertise of five year old, “Daddy, all the blood looks the same to me, I can’t see why you can’t find a match?
At the end of that year, I medically retired and we moved to Atlanta, Georgia. I started doing clinical trials with different experimental drugs as I could not find a marrow donor. The cancer shadow continued to loom over me until a lifesaving drug, through a clinical trial called Gleevec, eventually found its way to me. I am the world’s longest-living survivor that takes this drug.
We would read to Patrice every day. Being an avid reader myself, I knew this was important to her education. Every Saturday morning, Patrice and I would go to three places, a used book store, the library, and Barnes & Noble. She would have a stack of books to last all week. I would let her pick whatever age-appropriate book she wanted and she developed a love for reading. Patrice also had her own children magazine subscriptions coming to the house.
Parents with cancer must be connected with their children as much as possible. We volunteered at Patrice’s school in various ways during the time she was a student. Patrice also spent a lot of hours volunteering in the community, such as at the local VA Hospital. Also at church, we were also involved in the activities that she was involved in. We made every sports event and flute performance. The way a parent handles adversity teaches their child how to handle adversity.
The main ingredients to nurture a successful well-balanced child are 1) to make sure they feel loved, 2) insure that they develop a love for learning, 3) and finally support them with your presence as they go through the different stages of growing up. Rely on your instincts, but be proactive and research each stage of child development because things are forever changing.