don kerr

5 years ago · 5 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Riding Shotgun: Another excerpt and another unabashed appeal for support

Riding Shotgun: Another excerpt and another unabashed appeal for supportMy Kickstarter campaign has entered its second week and while the first week was encouraging (reached 21% of my goal), there is still a way to go before I can confidently move forward to publication.

My book, Riding Shotgun, was written with men in mind. When my wife Katie was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer in October 2011, I went searching for material to help me in my new role as a male caregiver in this foreign land. I found very little. I hope this book will partially fill that void. 

Now, while I say it is written with men in mind I think the content will prove of assistance to women and families. We men are, at times, stubborn creatures at times ill-equipped and/or motivated to address life's adversities head on - especially with regard to the very survival of our partners. I do not mean this as a criticism. It is a simple fact. We are bred to fix stuff and this we cannot fix!

I very much hope you'll find it in your hearts and wallets to support my efforts to bring this book to a community in need. You can access my Kickstarter page here:

Continuing to follow the advice offered by fellow Bee and friend @Randy Kehoe, the following is another excerpt from the book. It is taken from the chapter entitled: What about the Children? The story itself touches on how we approached dealing with the cancer reality and our two young sons.

They're not superheroes. They just seem to be.

It is a real quandary. When a potentially fatal illness strikes someone in the family what do you tell your kids?

Our natural instinct is to protect our children from harm both physical and emotional. If only we can shelter them from the storm all will be well. Right?


When Katie received her diagnosis in the fall of 2011, I don’t recall our initial thinking about what to tell our sons Gabriel and Samuel.

We were entirely consumed with grown-up thoughts and our efforts revolved entirely around seeking the very best advice and care possible for Kate.

This was a natural reaction, as we learned, and it is not improper. It reflects similar thinking to that which you receive on commercial airlines: in the event of a sudden loss of air pressure an oxygen mask will descend from the ceiling.

Place it first over your mouth and nose THEN on your children.

Only we didn’t have a mask fall from the ceiling.

At that time, our kids were left adrift and I still experience the occasional pang of guilt.

What I’ve learned since though is that what happened with us is typical and nothing to be ashamed of. The only shame would have been not to recognize the reality and continue to ignore the impact the turmoil was having on our boys.

The further reality is this: Samuel, due to his age, was largely inoculated from the experience. Gabe, on the other hand, is and always has been a sensitive soul with great awareness of his environment. This does not negate the importance of being aware of the needs of all children, only that sometimes one needs to focus more on the elder child.

While admittedly learning by the seat of our pants, a few things stand out.

Be honest.

While it might be tempting to attempt to keep your kids sheltered, it is not possible.

Katie chose, wisely and early on, to be open with the kids about what was happening. Face the fact that your children know something is amiss. Their parents are more remote. They are absent more often. Mommy won’t be able to pick them up as often and she’ll be in bed a lot when normally she would be playing with them, reading stories, or at work. They will notice, if you’re lucky enough to have such support available, that Nana and Grandpa are around a lot more. They will notice Mommy and Daddy are sad. Sometimes they’re mad.

Kids are ultra-sensitive to change and remember, all change creates loss. They can’t necessarily articulate their feelings - mostly because they can’t identify them at this age - and behaviours may change. They may do things at school that are out of the ordinary. Gabe, for example, developed a streak of aggression with his school and camp mates.

I recall one day, the first day in fact, picking him up at his summer camp. The counselor called me over for a private chat. You know that’s never a good thing and seldom does the counselor want to share news of some triumph! She advised that Gabriel had been physical with another child. When I asked for details she told me that while in the lineup for lunch another camper butted in. Normally, Gabe would let that slide. But not this time. Gabriel put a choke hold on the kid!

Explaining the situation - his Mom is sick - the counselor became more empathetic. So here’s another tip - be honest with your kids and let any of the people with whom they interact know what is happening in their lives.

We had a couple of similar incidents at his school. With care, attention and the understanding that this was his only way of expressing himself, we were able to help him adjust and manage himself better.

We have found the writings of Dr. Dan Siegal very helpful and highly recommend his book, The Whole-Brain Child. In it he writes, “…it’s very important that kids learn about and understand their feelings. But it’s also true that feelings need to be recognized for what they are: temporary, changing conditions. They are states, not traits. They’re like the weather. Rain is real and we’d be foolish to stand in a downpour and act as if it weren’t actually raining. But we’d be just as foolish to expect that the sun will never reappear. We need to help our children understand that the clouds of their emotions can (and will) roll on by. They won’t feel sad or angry or hurt or lonely forever.”•

Make time.

Any severe illness will devour time. Innumerable medical appointments, hospital visits, consultations, treatments, visits to the pharmacy, home-care visits from the nurse, and all of the activities of ‘normal’ life seem to dominate every waking moment. And when you’re not consumed with real doing, you may find your mind totally unfocused and wandering about in the world of chaotic rumination.


Your kids need you.

They need you to feel them, to see them, to hear them, to play with them, to be silly.

They need you to be you.

And what’s more - you need them - desperately.

You need your children to keep your perspective. To keep alive your sense of wonder and magic. To ground you. To bring you back from the precipice of doom and gloom. To make you laugh. To make you howl! To make you you.

These little humans are perhaps the most resilient creatures on earth and, at the same time, the most effective medication on offer for both the person stricken and the caregiver. You need only extend a focused hand and you will be rewarded with emotional riches beyond your ken.

Our children were, at times, the only bright lights as we traveled through the oppressive tunnel of ignorance and fear. While they sensed our angst, they quite simply refused to allow us to wallow in the mud pits of despair.

In them, we came to recognize that regardless of whatever the outcome, our lives would continue and that it was incumbent on us to do our level best to give them the tools to live full, wholesome lives. Not fairytale lives, but real in-the-moment lives populated with enriching people and events.

Seek and accept help.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know this.

Your natural inclination may be to never let your children out of your sight.

If people whom you trust offer to give you some relief with childcare - accept.

It will be good for them and it will be good for you.

The kids will have a chance to experience something different and you will have a chance to focus on each other exclusively.

That is all.

Investigate on-line support and insight.

I will be the first to advise that you NOT research your partner’s condition ad-nauseum. While the net is a tremendous source of information it also can lead you down paths that need not be followed. For example, much of what you read will be catastrophized. That grabs more eyes and hits. It may not necessarily reflect reality.

However, when it comes to your kids, I recommend the web as a tremendous source and in particular this link:

There is exceptionally good, simple advice here and even if your illness is not terminal the approaches recommended are sound and relevant.

Acknowledge your imperfections

There were days when I wished we didn’t have kids.

I know. How selfish and self-indulgent.

Yet true.

Somehow it seemed that it would make things simpler.

On a few of the darkest nights I tried to envision a future without Kate. Me. A 60+-year old father of three and five year old boys.

It doesn’t conjure up the happiest of thoughts.

Until you realize this:

Your kids are remarkable.

They, if provided the proper environment and encouragement will be remarkable. They will, in total innocence, help resurrect you. They will forgive everything. They will love and care and be pillars of support strong beyond anything you might imagine.

Your kids are not superheroes. They just seem to be.

*©2011 by Mind Your Brain, Inc., and Bryson Creative Productions Inc.

©2016 Don Kerr. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

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don kerr

5 years ago #16

Many thanks for stopping by Gert Scholtz

Gert Scholtz

5 years ago #15

Don Kerr How to deal with children in the situation is so important and you explain it wisely and with sensitivity. Important as you say is not to keep them sheltered. I look forward to you next excerpt. Thank you Don.

don kerr

5 years ago #14

To my Irish friend, many thanks for your support. It means a great deal to me.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #13

an important book on an important quest :-)

don kerr

5 years ago #12

your support much welcome my friend.

don kerr

5 years ago #11

Thank you kindly.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #10

Don, know from direct experience that this book is important. My family on my father's side has been decimated by breast cancer. Three aunts and a dear first cousin. I am sharing this again, and support your quest for funding to publish. My best to you, your wife, and your family.

don kerr

5 years ago #9

mucho gracias amigo.

don kerr

5 years ago #8

very kind of you and many thanks David Grinberg

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #7

Sharing in the Bloggers Hive. Check out Don's Kickstarter project to get this great book published!

David B. Grinberg

5 years ago #6

Don Kerr - Thanks for this important, profound and deeply touching post. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. You make so many excellent points above. Good luck with the Kickstarter campaign and everything else.

don kerr

5 years ago #5

Takes some cojones but usually it is the best course. Thanks Randy Keho uh and sorry for misspelling your name. I keep thinking of Rick Kehoe who used to play for the Maple Loafs.

don kerr

5 years ago #4

Agree Robert Cormack Thanks for your support.

Randy Keho

5 years ago #3

I was very truthful with both my kids when I told them about their nana suffering from dementia. My daughter, who was a CNA at the time, was familiar with the situation. My son was not. It took him a long time to come to grips with it, choosing to deal with it as "out-of-sight, out-of-mind." He just couldn't comprehend that his nana didn't recognize his papa. Now, he likes to take his 1-year-old son to see nana because she gets very excited to see her grandson.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #2

I sincerely hope this book takes off. I've sat with one cancer victim while they died; that was plenty. Anything that gives people direction and consolation is a good thing. Cheers.

don kerr

5 years ago #1

Phil Friedman Tag! You're it!

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