You have recently been told “It’s cancer, I’m sorry…”, you aren’t sure what else was said after that because as soon as you heard the word cancer, you couldn’t hear anything else. I know you are scared. I know you sometimes zone out in the middle of family moments and picture that exact scene unfolding down the road, only without you there.
I know you look at your kids and silently beg: Let me get to see you graduate… Please let me be there to watch your daddy walk you down the aisle… Please , oh please, let me be around long enough for you to remember me. I know you have a primal and desperate need to stay alive for those kids, and it breaks your heart to think of the alternative. I know you, because I am you.
A year ago I was sitting in my youngest daughter’s room at bedtime, holding her little body against mine as we rocked back and forth in the chair, and crying because this would be the last time I nursed her. Ever. She was 5 months old and I was starting chemotherapy the following morning. It seemed so cruel that what we had worked so hard to establish was being taken away from us before either of us was ready.
I wanted to freeze time that night, I wanted to wake up from the nightmare I had become tangled in during the weeks leading up to this. I held her on my shoulder and sang her the lullaby I sang each night before I placed her in her crib, and wondered, how many more times would I get to sing her that song? How many more nights would I get to tuck my other children into bed? Would I die before my baby was old enough to have memories of a momma who loved her so entirely that she sometimes felt as if her heart would burst?
The previous weeks had been a blur of tests, waiting, biopsy, waiting, scans, waiting. Waiting for results. Waiting for answers. Waiting to hear my fate. Trying to squash the panic that was trying to rise up inside of me during every waking moment. Trying to fall asleep at night. And stay asleep. Lying awake at 3 a.m. with a mind swirling, and feeling so alone. You have probably been through a very similar path. You have probably felt many of the same feelings.
Soon I had my answers, and it was time to enter treatment. Cancer treatment is unforgiving, grueling, and, yes, even painful at times. Over the next six months, I tried to balance being a cancer patient on IV chemo, with being a mom. Go to my appointments. Get home and wash baby bottles. Take my pills. Fill out school forms for my oldest. Go to chemo. Come home and have a nap. Get up and make supper.
There were days when I would lay on the floor nauseated, and count down the minutes until my youngest daughter’s nap time. There were days when the bone pain was so bad I could barely lift them. There were days when the guilt I felt, about how my baby’s first year of life at home with me had been derailed, was unbearable. I was constantly torn between the need to lay down or rest, and the fear of missing out on making memories with my family. You will have to find your new balance too. I was very lucky and had friends, coworkers, and family who surrounded me with help. Take the help that is offered to you. Ask for help when you need it.
The days passed and weeks went by, and we have now made it through a year of treatment, surgery, radiation, physio, and more treatment. You will find the strength to get through it too. For now, my kids still have a mom, and I am so grateful for that. Cancer has shifted my priorities and made me a better mom. A more present mom. The cleaning and dishes can wait if it means colouring with them. I find time for bedtime stories most nights even when I’m exhausted. These were things that didn’t always happen before I got sick, things I thought I would always have time for down the road.
My oncologist shared something with me a few months ago, that had a profound impact on how I feel about having a life-threatening diagnosis. He told me that I wasn’t in control of any of this, or my outcome. He will leave no stone unturned with treatment options, but there are no guarantees with cancer. Terrifying, but also freeing. He reminded me that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, and we need to live our lives.
So between the appointments, the pills, the fatigue, make time to live your life. Make time for creating memories with your kids. Make time to take care of yourself. And I wish all of you many, MANY more years to do all of that.
“When I had nothing to lose, I had everything.” – Paulo Coelho