Motherhood and Cancer don’t mix:
Recently, a mom said to me, “Don’t you feel your kids are growing up so fast, I feel that way all the time? I wish things would slow down a bit!”
I pause with ambivalence. There is a part of me that can relate to it. The feeling when your child celebrates yet another birthday and you think, “Weren’t you just born yesterday?” The other part, cancer-struck and fearful, wounded and subdued by cruelty of fate, can’t wait for them to be adults so I don’t leave my “work undone”.
Motherhood and cancer don’t mix, they shouldn’t.
When a young mom gets the diagnosis of cancer, the very early thoughts she struggles most with, are a jumbled array of confusion and panic regarding her kids …but I have to see my kids through…how could this be happening, I have little kids…who is going to take care of them?…but I am the only one that knows what they like…but my daughter only sleeps with me. A million and one thoughts about the needs of her kids and how to save them from the pain of mommy’s cancer.
You want to protect them but are painfully aware that this is something you can’t shelter them from.
A big crack in the roof of love over their little heads, and the rain of uncertainty soaks the kids and as much as the mom who is already swimming in her tears.
Just as the whirl wind of cancer starts to spin, the foundation of motherhood is the first to get shaken.
What is going to happen to my kids? How do I tell them, do I tell them? Are the even old enough to understand?
But moms are supposed to be care givers…I don’t have time to be sick…my children need me. Who will attend the PTA meetings? who will buy the school supplies?, who will help them with the projects?.Who will put them to bed? Will daddy singing itsy bitsy spider have the same soothing effect on them?
Infinite questions but no assurance. Yes, motherhood and cancer don’t mix.
I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer about 2 years ago during summer. My son was 6 and half and my daughter 2 and half. My memories of the time from diagnosis to the surgery are quite muddled. All I remember are days occupied by scans and appointments and coming home in the evening to kids that looked confused and lost. I had the realization that I had take leave of absence from my most important job- motherhood.
I could no longer be the one who consistently puts them to bed and wakes up before them. I had to make peace with the fact that they will be eating out of boxes and packets instead of home cooked food. I had to be accepting of outfits that the sitter put together even if my daughter’s shirt and pant were both really pink and she looked like a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. I had to take naps instead of reading to them, stay home and rest while they went to the playground. Sapped of my energy, I had to decline over and over again, my little daughter’s offers to dance with her.
I had to surrender. Because motherhood and cancer just don’t mix.
I tried to be there for them, God knows I really tried. My son’s first day of school was 10 days after my mastectomy, I was still unable to wear regular clothes only front button ones, I remember somehow contorting myself into a hoodie to walk him to his bus stop, I didn’t want to miss it because a part of me was unsure if I would see this day next year. I wanted to make sure that he had memories of his mom being there. Weak and lightheaded, I walked that day with him.
I went to every class party, sometimes in a wig, post chemo, nauseous and tired but kept showing up just so he knew that his mom is around. I would make him do homework in post chemo haze but persisted. Sometimes I forgot what I was saying, other times I didn’t. Foggy and slow I kept going.
Oh sure motherhood and cancer just don’t mix.
There were days that I went to his soccer games and ran back home to throw up and return to the field wanting to cheer him. Sometimes I didn’t even follow what was going on but I clapped just so he could hear his mom cheer for him.
My daughter was 2.5….she felt asleep in my arms the night before my surgery, her little face nestled between my two breasts…for one last time. I held her like that for a long time, until I had to go to bed to wake up NPO the next morning for my mastectomy. My daughter would never have another night like that with her mom because motherhood and cancer don’t mix.
She would come running to me post surgery and I had to turn away because I couldn’t lift her. She gradually learnt to stay away. It would break my heart but I needed to heal. She would come by and ask to look at my “Aowa” on my chest or ask to touch my port. Curious but seemingly understanding that something is wrong with mommy.
After my second chemo, I was reading on my laptop and my daughter decided to comb my hair. Horrifyingly my hair started to fall; she was confused and pulled on my hair. A bunch pulled off into her hands, and then she giggled and pulled out some more. Mommy’s chemo hair loss became a fascinating activity. My son incidentally was filming this on his ipad.
Later she would explore my bald head but apparently made peace with it.
I had told my son that my hair and breast would grow back. Even though dishonest, it was very comforting to him. When he saw my hair return, it re kindled the hope of the grow-back boob.
2 years later he is now old enough to know it won’t happen but that lie kept him from some of the stress, the thought that his mother is permanently mutilated,at an age that was tender.
Sometime I feel it’s unfair, unfair that any mother should have cancer, for it’s her disease but the most punished are the kids by this stroke of fate. Some of them then have to negotiate the world motherless, some with mothers that aren’t the same any more, some empty yet determined shells of who they were.
Why do motherhood and cancer need to mix? Why can motherhood be so sanctified that no disease can interrupt it? Why o why?
Why should my children or anyone’s innocent children bear this burden for the rest of mine and their lives?
I have no answers for them or for myself.
Just my attitude and my fight. My strength and my courage to plow through what life has thrown at us. I will protect my kids, that’s my job, cancer or no cancer.
I have to see them through each day that I am here.
One day I felt the fatigue let up so I went to clean my son’s room. I found a small box hidden by the bed. I opened it out of curiosity and found a hair of mine in it, my long pre-chemo hair strand.
He was holding on to his mom and keeping the memory alive of the end point in this process. Woven in that strand was the hope of my son, enclosed in that box was his healthy mom, that he once knew.
I have to return that to him. And as long as I can, I will fight for my life. That’s what motherhood is, that’s what motherhood can do.