‘Mia, remember I told you about having the lump removed from my knee when I was younger?’, said Eva, in German.
Mia sat on Eva’s knee, half paying attention.
‘And remember that I told you that I have been having lots of pictures taken of the lump (klumpen) in my breast (brust) over the last week?’
‘Well, the doctors said that I have to get it taken out. I’m going to go to hospital and they’ll make a cut in my breast whilst I’m asleep.’
‘Can we visit you in hospital?’, she said excitedly. ‘Like we did when you had the sore tummy before?’ I cast my mind back to when Eva had the ruptured ectopic pregnancy last year. Mia had been so happy to get dressed in special clothes and march up to the ward to proudly present Eva with a bunch of flowers.
‘Of course you can.’
We were out on the deck. She jumped off Eva’s lap and came over to me. She leaned in to me and whispered loudly, ‘we can get Mama some of those chocolates, the little round ones…what are they called?’
‘Ferrero rocher?’, I asked.
‘Yes! And we can get her lillies, because they’re her favourite flowers.’
Her eyes were sparkling and she looked across at Eva.
‘Did you hear what I said, Mama?’
She looked back to me. ‘I want to tell her!’
‘Let’s keep it a surprise,’ I suggested. ‘Maybe you can make her a card, too?
She nodded intently, her eyes wide.
‘So there are three things that are going to happen to Mama, Mia. First the doctors are going to put her to sleep and remove the lump from her breast.’
‘Will she have a big cut? Like Lottie’s dad had in his leg when he hurt it?’
‘Yes, it will be a big cut.’ I hesitated, and considered whether it would be helpful to tell her that Eva would have her whole breast removed.
‘He had a cut right up to here, didn’t he?,’ she asked, motioning to the top of her hip.
‘Well, it wasn’t quite that big. The next thing that’s going to happen is that the doctors are going to give her super strong medicine. It will go all round her body and make sure that all the bits of klumpen are gone.’ I don’t know why I was inserting German words. ‘Mama will be really tired when she has that medicine and will need lots of rest.’
‘After that, they are going to put magic rays on to Mama’s chest, also to help get rid of the klumpen.’ I wiggled my fingers towards Mia’s chest.
‘Do you understand, Mia?’
‘Yes. But I want to tell her.’
‘Let’s keep it a surprise, okay? The main thing to remember Mia, is that I am going to be looking after you and Luca, and Mama. Even when Mama is tired, I’ll be looking after you. And you know what? There are going to be so many people looking after our whole family! That’s why Julian and Abbie and James are bringing us food. We are so well looked after, which is amazing.’
I think she had zoned out by then, bedazzled by thoughts of flowers and chocolates and hospital visits.
We had no idea when or how we were going to explain what was happening to Mia. Our gut instinct had been to just let her ask questions as we attended more and more appointments. But Eva became somewhat uneasy about this. For us it felt right to give Mia some kind of idea that something was going to happen. She had not remarked on people dropping off food or the hugs or the hushed conversations and phone calls (which we had tried to keep to a minimum). It felt the right decision in that moment, which I think is how a lot of our words and actions are going to be guided. There is no manual for this. Only the experience of those who have been through it before, and knowing, as much as possible, what is good for our child.
The next day she pulled a cafetiere of fresh coffee on to herself. Good to still have a four year-old around to keep us on our toes. (She’s fine, by the way).