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When children are involved, the adults around them must become awareness masters without curbing the natural inquisitiveness that seems to be instilled in babies at birth.

Call it curiosity, inquisitiveness, or exploration, kids will get into trouble on the road to discovery. Our job as parents is to nudge and prod our kids in ways such that they don’t see our interventions. It is equal parts art, skill, and luck. 

By being aware of our kids’ habits, methods, and moods, we can sort of “predict” when things might need a tad bit of redirection so disaster is avoided, yet lessons for growth are learned. A few tears over a skinned knee is normal; intense pain is not. 

As I interviewed a variety of people for an article on Childhood Cancers awareness, one theme kept creeping in. Childhood Cancer symptoms look a great deal like normal aches, pains, and illnesses. The difference is mostly the intensity and duration. 

On the invisible scale of parent data collection, intuition plays a vital role in sensing when to gently redirect a behavior or shout a warning. Whether we know it or not, anyone who spends time around children automatically starts their personal observation mechanism when kids are around. We look for patterns and react when something is amiss. 

But how do you react when you see something is amiss and you can’t put your finger on it? How do you know when to redirect or shout? How do you know when a bruise isn’t just a bruise or a nosebleed isn’t just the result of a dry nose? How do you decide to challenge a doctor who tells you nothing is wrong, but you know in your heart of hearts much is wrong? 

The overwhelming answer to these questions seemed to be “trust yourself and ask for help.” Parents of children lost to Childhood Cancer use what they learned to make the life of their child mean something for those who are and will be faced with such unspeakable challenges. Those who know their lives will be changed forever, but that their child will be “cancer free”, will remain hypervigilant for as long as they live. The only thing that seemed to make a difference was early detection which comes from awareness. 

O.J. Greene, whose very young daughter Peyton will fight to live told me, “It is hard enough to look at an adult with cancer; but it’s a whole lot harder to look at a 2 year old with cancer.” His experience has been that people don’t know what to do or say to a parent of a child with cancer. Because people don’t want to talk about it, awareness is at a very low level. Not being aware of symptoms can be devastating. “For us, we didn’t know there was a problem until it was a monster to fight.” 

For O.J. and all the parents out there wondering if a bruise that doesn’t fade or some other lingering symptom that doesn’t subside within an expected amount of time, listening to instinct and trusting the parent radar is crucial in fighting serious illness. Like all good parents, taking in all the facts, evaluating them, and then making a decision can happen in a split second when a toddler darts into traffic, but when it comes to serious illness, it might be the same intuition that keeps a parent asking questions until a definitive answer is found.