I’ve been following Humans of New York religiously since 2013, after I first moved to California and saw a segment on 20/20 about it. For anyone living under a rock who hasn’t heard of the popular blog; Photographer Brandon Stanton pairs photographs of strangers (originally New Yorker’s) with short interviews and quotes to represent the authenticity of the human race.
Last month he shared stories of children who are receiving cancer treatments at Memorial Sloan Kettering, a series that raised 3.8 million dollars toward cancer research. Check out these inspirational stories here: Pediatric Cancer.
While the series documents several different families coping with their child’s illness, cancer isn’t the only common denominator! As I read through each of these stories I started to notice a remarkable difference between the child and the parent perspective. The children all seem incredibly innocent yet courageous, optimistic, resilient. One child says “If you get brain cancer, try not to worry! It will be very hard and you will get lots of fevers but you have to be brave. You have to be brave like me because I’m very brave about this thing. And if you don’t know how to be brave, I can teach you.” Contrary to many of the parents, whose photographs alone represent this unimaginable pain, fear and ultimate sadness.
Most of the parents agreed on one thing, there was an immense amount of regret for what their son or daughter may not get the chance to experience. However, the younger kids that were documented weren’t worried about all that, they just wanted to get out and be kids again. One kid quotes “I got the cancer in the summer when the pools were opening. And I really wanted to go swimming but I couldn’t leave the hospital….”you see, it was the simple things that they were fighting for.
This triggered a few questions for me. Are children stronger than adults? Is it their innocence that allows them to be so positive? Is innocence bliss? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to recently, even in my own life. How would the child version of myself cope with my fathers cancer? would I be more optimistic? more hopeful? less…afraid? How would the child version of myself deal with a lot of my adult issues?
To say I had a rough childhood is sort-of-an understatement, but as a kid I didn’t know any different; I thought most families were just as broken as mine. To be perfectly honest, my childhood really didn’t affect me until I was old enough to understand the psychological consequences of growing up in those circumstances. I reflect on being a teenager sometimes and wish that I still had that invincible attitude. I was untouchable, unbreakable, nothing could stop me or bring me down. I was much braver than I am now.
For the most part both the kid and adult Tatiana likes to look at the glass half full. I always try to think “well, things could be worse”, maybe that’s what’s helped me not become severely depressed. As I scrolled through these pediatric cancer stories on my Instagram feed I was – in a weird way, grateful that it’s my dad that’s sick, and not another child. Because the reality is, he was fortunate enough to live many years and accomplish many things. Sure it’s still very sad, he would still miss out on a lot if we lost him anytime soon, but these children have barely gotten a chance at life.
I did however wish that I could sit my dad down with some of these children for him to be enlightened. During the darker days of his battle with lung cancer he seemed so defeated. Those were the days that I felt like I already lost my dad. I wished so badly that he had the kind of bravery and optimism these children project. Perhaps some naivety about the whole situation would have helped? Maybe if he didn’t truly understand how serious his cancer was, or if he didn’t know how permanent death is, or how much his children would suffer without him. Maybe… the absence of knowledge can be powerful in its own way.