Motherhood and Cancer Don’t Mix

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.


42 thoughts on “Motherhood and Cancer Don’t Mix

    1. Thank you Knot! I wanted the world to know how cancer complicates the worlds toughest job, and the moms keep doing it every day as best as they can. Thank you for your kind words

  1. Hi Uzma,
    What a poignant post. No, cancer and motherhood do not mix. Not at all. My children were young adults when I was diagnosed and the two still didn’t mix. Even at their ages, I wanted to protect them because that’s what mothers do. When one’s children are so young, there is another whole level of unfairness to it all. I hate that so many have motherhood rudely interrupted by cancer. But they carry on doing their best because again, that’s what mothers do. Thank you for this heartfelt post.

  2. Uzma, this is one of the best posts on Motherhood and Cancer that I have ever read. I nodded in agreement with every single thing you wrote. Thank you for your honesty.

  3. What a lovely story of courage and love. You are a strong and wonderful woman. All my love!

  4. Hi, Uzma. This post is absolutely wonderful. I am the Community Manager at and I would love to share your post in our Guest Room blog space for our community members. Please send me a note at theguestroom at facingcancer dot ca? Many thanks for sharing your experience. ~Chantal Richard

  5. What resonates in my mind forever is the little 3 year old who ran into the house the week I was diagnosed with breast cancer….he had a boo boo… I asked him if he wanted mommy to kiss his boo boo. Panic shot through me………..who would kiss his boo boos when I am gone? Who would love him as much as I do? …….thankfully, he is 10 now…….I am still here to kiss his boo boos… makes me cry every time I think about it though………..My kids were 3 and 6 and they lost out on a lot of time with me and as they get older, the learn more about cancer and I can tell by their questions that they have new fears about what could happen to me…..they endured my 5 months of chemo, 7 weeks of radiation, eight surgeries, staph infections, strep infections, iv antibiotics, close to 30 days in the hospital over time, nurses coming to the house…….just not fair for the boys……this hit home on so many levels… boys helped to shave my head…. I told them that I had a boo boo in my boobie that was making me sick so the doctor had to take them off, but boobies are for feeding babies and they were big and strong and didn’t need them anymore, so neither did I. I told them that I would get pretend ones so I could look like everyone else again and we could go to the beach and I could wear my bathing suits again…I hope all of this turns them in to stronger men with compassion and understanding for others..

  6. This definitely resonates with me. My daughter was 9 the first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked if I was going to lose my breast (yes, I chose bilateral mastectomy). She asked if I was going to die (No, I said, I was going to kick cancer’s ass. That elicited a smile and a request for a quarter for swearing!).
    At 9, when my husband was away or at work, she had to bring me pots to throw up in. She held my hand when we walked slowly through the neighborhood. She rubbed sunscreen onto my bald head. She had to grow up before her time, one of the most unfair things of this unfair thing called cancer.
    5 1/2 years later, just before my daughter turned 15, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer; the beast had spread to virtually every bone in my body. This time, I could no longer assert that I wouldn’t die from breast cancer, because unless I get hit by the proverbial bus, I will indeed die from breast cancer. She didn’t have to ask the question, because she knows far more about cancer than she should, thanks to Google. Two weeks after starting chemo, she brought the clippers without asking, and shaved my head. We had already been there, we knew what to do.
    Cancer robs so much of our children’s innocence. Yes, motherhood and cancer don’t mix.

  7. In my most fearful moments, and I suspect most mothers do this, I have at times caught myself thinking about just this thing…and you have described it and captured it and moved me to tears. To live with the awareness that you constantly must have when you’re with your children, is heart breaking but also, bittersweet, and poignant. We all share this awareness, because truly none of us know if this is our last breath or is it the next. And in that, you’ve touched upon a universal truth in motherhood, one that is made more real by the presence of cancer, but which lurks in all our hearts.

  8. I have stage IV Mets and it was like you were writing my story…even down to my daughter who is 6 and sleeps with me. Thank you so much because now I hope people around me will understand at least half of my Struggles.

  9. Uzma, I am a single mother to an 8 year old. It was hard enough, at times to manage to juggle the parenting responsibilities, but I was diagnosed last year, just before my birthday. Trying to carry out the normal day to day activities whilst in a chemo fog, not to mention the bone pains was so difficult. It disrupted our lives for the better part of a year!
    My daughter once said to me “I’m bored of all this canicer bobbins!” me too baby, me too

  10. This really hits home with me as I was diagnosed stage IV from the start at age 35 just a week before my son’s 5th birthday. I have had so many of these same thoughts. Will my husband plan their birthdays as I did, who will help the kids with their homework, who will make my famous chocolate chip cookies that everyone loves. There are just so many things that are a mom’s duty. My daughter was 14 when I was diagnosed. I still managed to teach her to drive going through chemo. I still wonder if I will see her finish college, get married, have children. All of those things I wonder about with all 3 of my babies. Moms are supposed to be there for their kids. 2 1/2 years later I’m still here, making those cookies, attending ball games and fixing hair for prom. Motherhood and cancer DONOT mix! Thank you for this amazing post.

  11. Uzmamd,
    My mother had breast cancer, my aunt, several friends and cousins too. Many have died, most recently my dear, beautiful cousin Mary, one year ago at the age of 58. Her only daughter is getting married in August and it is so sad that she will not be at the wedding. Living myself through all these experiences as a caregiver and confident, I have come to realize that much of the sickness and suffering is because of human’s disrespect for nature and the environment. We separate ourselves from nature and pollute the water, the air and the soil without a thought of how it will come back to us. My immigrant grandfather, who didn’t read or write English very well and was not an educated man, knew better than to pollute his water and soil in which he grew his precious tomatoes and other garden treasures.

    Your story, unfortunately, is one that many, many mothers and children share. I have decided to devote my life to working to STOP the maddness, which means going against the status quo. It means taking on big oil/gas, big Agriculture, big Pharma and all the other “Bigs” that disregard the environment and the people just to make more profit. I do not want my son and possible future grandchildren growing up in a world that only knows toxic air, contaminated water and foods filled with Roundup and other pesticides. Instead of just focusing on a “cure”, I am devoting my life to “stopping the cause”.

    I wish you all the best and hope that you beat the cancer and live to see your children’s accomplishments and happiness into adulthood! Happy Mother’s Day.

  12. Good article. .then there is us who get cancer young and chemotherapy puts us in menopause so I’ll never have babies..hard to face as a woman and a newlywed

  13. This was a beautiful post. My son was 20 months old when I was diagnosed in August. I relate to every point you made here. Cancer and motherhood certainly don’t mix at all.

  14. This was a very touching post. I don’t have any children but I want one child and I have the same fears of leaving them. I keep telling myself that none of us know when it is “our time” and most people who haven’t received a mortality notice don’t share the same concerns, at least not at our level. Once everything becomes rawer it also becomes burdensome and heavy, waking up different emotions and fears. It is quite challenging to cope at times so I can relate to this part.

    I hope each day is easier for you and there are more of good days than bad days. My real wish is that there are no bad days at all.

    Good luck with coping and I wish you many years ahead to share with your family.

  15. How can anyone be so beautiful I wonder when I read ur blog or other write up in FB. Because I believe u have to b very beautiful from inside to write so well. Don’t know what to say. I can’t even say I understand. I am always worried for my 3 kids what will happen to them after me. Then I just think of the countless children who are orphaned due to man made calamities n due to natural calamities around the world. N just pray everyday day to Almighty that he shower his grace,mercy on them today when I am with them n when I am no longer going to b with them wish and pray 🙏 the same for u and ur family. And yes cancer and motherhood does not mix. N I have to admit I had tears in my eyes n lumps in my throat when I read ur post

  16. Beautifully written. I’m the wife of a cancer patient, and I can tell you cancer and fatherhood don’t mix very well either. Our daughter was 10 when her dad was diagnosed with cancer and we experienced many of the same feelings you express here. Both of us have struggled with how to be the best parents we can throughout this process.

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