22: The Rainbow

22: The Rainbow

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

The Rainbow

We all have spiritual DNA; wisdom and truth are part of our genetic structure even if we don’t always access it.

~Lama Surya Das

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of forty-four, my biggest concern was how my teens, Kaitlyn and Donovan, would take the news, and how they would adapt to having a sick mom around the house. I was not so much concerned about my six-year-old, Ben, who has autism. With his very weak verbal skills, I reasoned that Ben would not really understand what was happening. Even if he did comprehend my illness, I figured that being “in a world of his own,” he wouldn’t really be bothered by my plight. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

While he says very little, Ben recently learned to use the computer to express himself. Several times during my illness, he surprised me by bringing me typewritten notes (done without prompting) with messages like: “Dear Mom, you are nice” and “Dear Mom, I love you.” Sometimes I would find his notes lying around the house, with messages such as, “Mom is sick,” or “Mom is hurt.”

On a rare occasion, Ben will catch me off guard by speaking a full, meaningful sentence. Never was I more surprised than one night while putting him to bed, when he said to me, “Good night. Guardian angels watch over you and protect you.” Some might say he was just echoing something he had heard me say a hundred times before. True. But the miraculous part is that it is the one and only time I ever heard him speak those words, and it happened to be on the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

While Ben is not an affectionate child by nature, he seemed to relax his rules a little during my illness. On days that I was confined to the bed or the couch, he would often come to me with his stuffed dog, Scruffy, looking for a cuddle. One day, shortly after my diagnosis, Ben and I were alone in the house when a freak spring snowstorm hit. The blizzard outside seemed to mirror the storm of emotion that was happening inside me as I wondered what lay ahead and whether I would even be around to see another spring. Ben, sensing my sadness, came to me with Scruffy for one of our rare cuddle sessions. As we lay on the couch, looking through the window at the blowing snow, Ben pointed to the sky and said, “Look, a rainbow.” This took me by surprise, as Ben, like many children with autism, is not one to use his imagination in this way. I asked, “Where is the rainbow?” Again, he pointed to the sky and said, “A rainbow.” I suddenly felt a sense of peace, as I took this as a sign that everything would be okay and there would be a rainbow at the end of my storm.

Ben may look like he is “in a world of his own,” but these gestures prove to me that he is a sensitive boy who is very much aware of what is happening in my world. After a very difficult year of cancer treatments, I am happy to say that I am now cancer-free, and as I reflect on the experience I can say that seeing this new side of Ben has certainly been one of the “perks” of having cancer.

~Florence Strang

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