I was diagnosed with breast cancer when my son was 18 months old. I had been back to work from maternity leave for only seven months, and the diagnosis was a complete shock. As with any life-changing event, there have been some positives that have come from the challenge of it all. One of them is that I now consider myself a better parent. Here are some of the lessons in parenting that I learned while battling cancer:
1. Live in the moment.
Just like every busy mom, I was juggling a lot and trying to keep everything in our lives working. But as we all know, multitasking never results in any one thing being done with our full attention. When I was told I was sick, all I could think about was maximizing my time on the planet and with my family. I have retained this focus on being in the moment. Cancer or no, none of us know how long we’ve got. Use the time you have by actually being present in each moment and truly experiencing it.
2. Honor your personal priorities.
When cancer showed up in our lives, everything that was not important fell away. All the times I worried about a work project or an unhappy coworker seemed so petty compared to what I faced. Now that I am back at work and life is very busy again, I still make sure that I reflect on what gets my attention and energy, and I know I’m not wasting time on things that aren’t important in my life. Family and love are first. Everything else is second. Of course I still need to work and earn money, and I put great effort into what I do. But I am always clear about what and who take top priority.
3. Make memories.
When you don’t know how long you have to live, it becomes crucial to make as many memories as you can. I worried I wouldn’t get to see my son grow up and that he would forget me. To ensure he knew me in case I wasn’t around, I started writing more and created a mini-book for him. Now that I am well and hopefully have many years ahead of me, I have not forgotten the importance of making memories. And I don’t mean the going-to-Disneyland kind. I just want my child to know he was loved immensely and that we laughed, and by being present and truly with him, I hope those are the memories he will have.
4. Choose joy.
Being sick helped me appreciate being well so much more. When I was away from my son during my many hospital stays, going home felt so glorious. I thought back about how many times I’ve worried about the size of my stomach or how untidy my house is, or felt guilty because I wasn’t the perfect mom. Holding onto this mindset is not helpful. The way to raise happy and healthy children is to be the example you want them to follow. Life can be hard, but there are opportunities every day to choose and experience joy. I know my happiness rubs off on everyone around me. And who gives a crap about my stomach? Not my child! No one who loves me cares about that.
5. Appreciate your partner.
I’m not an overall fan of Dr. Phil, but I once heard him say that the best thing a dad could do for his child was to love their mother. I totally agree with this. My husband was an incredible source of support and worked hard to ensure that our family life remained as stable as possible for our son while I was sick and especially during my hospital stays. Don’t ever minimize the support your partner gives you. And thank them for what they have done, even if it is just buying milk. The best thing I’m doing for my child is to continue loving his father and appreciating what we have as a family.
I’m overjoyed that cancer is out of my life for now, but I will be continually grateful for the lessons it has presented so I can become a better parent.