Being a mom while also being a cancer patient brings a whole new set of challenges. My children were ages 9, 8 and 4 when we got the news. I was never more afraid than the day we had to sit down and tell them the sad news. We had prepared a bit by checking out some books from the library. While our youngest was with a babysitter, we sat down with the 2 older kids and started off by saying that everything was going to be ok. We talked about how sad Mommy had been lately, and about why. We explained that I was going to have to be in and out of the hospital a lot, that I had to have some super strong medicine to make me better, and that it was going to make my hair fall out. We also explained that finding out one had cancer did NOT mean that I was going to die. They read through the books, asked a few questions, and we answered them the best we could. There were lots of hugs, lots of reassurances, and a lot of tears. Then the tears turned to giggles when they realized they could now get away with saying the word BOOBIES out loud.
Cancer has taught me not to take any second that my children are speaking to me for granted. If it’s important enough for them to say it to me, it is important enough for me to listen. With all of my attention. Life is busy, and I know it isn’t always possible to give them my full attention, but I always try to. I always say good night, and I love you, and I’m sorry and you’re amazing. Hopefully those small words will make a big difference in their lives eventually. I take more photos of my kids with me IN the pictures. They will not be little forever, and one day they will enjoy looking through those photos and make fun of the clothes that were in style. I also want them to see that I was enjoying my time with them, not just snapping photos. I show my kids it’s ok to be silly, make funny faces and embarrass yourself once in a while. It builds character! I pick my battles with them….and there are MANY TO PICK FROM. Enjoying the first beautiful day of spring is much more important than picking up their toys, or loading the dishwasher. I cherish each “I love you, Mommy” and enjoy holding their hand while they still want to.
Cancer showed me how strong I truly am. I cannot say that I am the same person I was when I went in to this ordeal, but I can say that I am better. It taught me to be patient, obedient, and to listen to the nurses when they tell you to TAKE THE STOOL SOFTENERS! I learned how to meditate, gather strength from within, and let go of the little things. I was able to enjoy lots of time with friends and family when they came to keep me company while I was stuck at home. I was able to surround myself with positive people to help with healing. I also learned that the little green morphine button in the hospital is a magical tool that makes colors brighter, inanimate objects talk, and doctor’s sound like leprechauns!
Best of all, cancer gave me confidence: I learned to ask questions. I didn’t just do what people said….I voiced my opinion. I learned to tell people what they could do to help when they asked. I learned to ask for help. I pushed the limits of my comfort zone: I tried different support groups and programs. I did yoga. I went zip lining! And somehow, it gave me a lifetime membership to a very strange, scary club-a club where every woman in a 30 mile radius wanted to show me her reconstruction!
My own first experience with cancer was when I was 5 years old. My maternal grandmother succumbed to lung cancer. Following her death, all I remember is my mom being VERY SAD for a long time. Unfortunately, my next experience with cancer was when my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer just after my high school graduation. I remember exactly where I was when she told me-I was in the bathroom, brushing my hair, and she came in and told me that the Doctor whom had just called told her that she had cancer. Then she lost it. Then I lost it. She was just 46; I was just 18. I wish I could say that her experience was easy, that her cancer had been caught in time, that it was just a bump in the road…but it was none of those things. She suffered greatly, she endured many surgeries, she had every ill effect that chemo could throw at her. 16 months later, she lost her battle with cancer, surrounded by our whole family at home. Just where she wanted to be.
My amazing mom, Pat, who still swooned over Elvis, loved Pepsi, and couldn’t carry a tune for NOTHIN’ passed away January 1995 from ovarian cancer.
So, you see, I knew exactly what my kids were going through. What they were thinking and what the future looked like from their eyes. But I also knew that I was not going to let them worry at all about me, and I put on my poker face so they would be as oblivious as possible to my disease. When they asked if I was going to die-I answered “not anytime soon!” When they asked why I got cancer-I told them the truth…because God knew I was tough enough to fight it, and there are others that aren’t. So if someone had to go thru it, He knew it should be me.
After my “big” surgery, I had over 24” worth of incisions on my chest. Adding to the pain, they had to cut into my pec muscles to insert the tissue expander that would eventually lead to my reconstruction. I was unable to do any lifting, which included my kids. I couldn’t pick them up, I couldn’t allow them to climb on my lap….I couldn’t take hugs from them either. But, we improvised.
While attempting to keep all the big, bad, things from the kids, the only time I had to let it all hang out was when I was journaling. I couldn’t cry in front of them, I didn’t want them to worry. I couldn’t have a deep discussion with Andy, because they were right there next to us all the time. Thankfully, I could go online, and discuss my fears without worrying the kids, or showing them my fears. The day I first heard the words, “this is breast cancer”, my thoughts immediately went to my children.
I would never see them grow up.
I would never witness them falling in love for the first time.
I would never see them dress for prom.
I would never see them get married.
I would never share the kitchen with my daughters on Thanksgiving morning.
I would never see the joy on my sons face as he holds his first child.
My husband would be left alone….
Well, little did CANCER know that I was havin’ NONE OF THAT. My kids may drive me nuts, but I still love them with all my heart. And my husband-well, he can handle them for a day while I’m at work, but Long term? I don’t know about that!
Thankfully we had hundreds of people willing to assist us with everything. The support and caring from our community was unbelievable!!! We had neighbors that drove our kids to and from school when I couldn’t drive. We had family and friends bringing over meals. We had a large group of friends organize the “Better Boobie Benefit” for us, where over 1200 people were in attendance! Everywhere we went, people were praying for me, thinking of us, and keeping up with my story on my blog. Friends donated services, merchandise, and time. The best memory ever is from when one of my girlfriends came over and sat on the floor playing with my girls, letting them put a million little ponytails in her hair! Another friend of mine sent her teenage daughters over everyday after school to help tidy up, help the kids with homework, and start supper. My two besties would come over and in a whirlwind clean my house…from scrubbing the toilets to cleaning out my fridge…hopefully not in that order! My sister got a tattoo in memory of our mom and in honor of me….a dual colored awareness ribbon: teal in moms memory, and pink for me! Even my dad would come and sit with me most every day, bringing raspberries and grape juice (my favorites!) and just hanging out on the couch together, dozing or watching Deadliest Catch.
Without the love of our ENTIRE community….and beyond….I do not think that my battle with cancer would have been nearly as successful. When you have thousands of people praying for you, God HAS to listen, right???? My online blog grew and grew until I had over 12,000 visitors checking in on me on a regular basis. They were able to leave me words of encouragement in the guestbook area, designed for just that. Friends wrote poems for me, left prayers on there, cheered me on, and began encouraging me to turn this whole ordeal into a book. At the time, I just smiled, and thought “sure, fight cancer, parent these 3 kids, go to work every day, and write a flippin’ book. I’ll get right on that.”
Well, as I got further out of treatment, and got back to a regular life, I started making cakes for family and friends for their events. I had been doing that full time in a retail environment for the past 6+ years, but 8 months off of work doesn’t really help pay the bills! So I started slowly, testing the waters, to see if there was an interest within my group of friends and family. Well, there definitely was! A few short months later, I found a licensed kitchen I could rent, and contacted the State for my license. Now I was not only SuperMom and CancerGirl, but a business owner as well! Once you have gone through something as horrible as cancer, you realize what is really important to you. And for me, it was being home with my family more. Thankfully my business took off to the point where I was able to cut down my hours at work-and be home much much more. No more 11 hour days away from home!
Well, I didn’t have that. It was actually quite nerve wracking…going from seeing some sort of medical professional every day, to NOTHING. No one reassuring you that whatever is happening “is normal”, or “you’re doing fine” it actually sends you into a panic mode. I was second-guessing every weird twinge; each time I had a headache or back ache, all I thought was “the cancer’s spread”; I felt very paranoid. When I shared my feeling of insecurity with my online followers, I received many reassurances that it wasn’t just me! Many cancer patients report the same feelings. Whew! I wasn’t going crazy!
I needed to find something to do to keep my mind off of this sudden hollow spot in my life! I didn’t quite have my energy back. So finally, I entertained the thought of turning my experience into a book. Sort of seriously. I started researching format, and how to get a bar code. I started scouring the internet for other books written by cancer patients, mostly breast cancer patients, in hopes of reading them and comparing them to what I had in my head. Many of them showed me what NOT to do…what things came across as TOO MUCH INFORMATION…and what they were all lacking. A day by day HONEST account of what cancer does to your life. Slowly I began editing my story, and putting some feelers out there. The response was pretty good! I decided that I was going to DO this. Even if it meant that the general public would know more about my life than they ever cared to, I dug my heels in and committed. It took me months and months to do the spell checking and editing, but thankfully it kept my mind off of the radiation burns and the fact that my eyebrows fell out three months AFTER I finished chemo. It gave me something to do when my body was unable to do anything physical.
Writing my book was definitely a full time job. I self-published, which means, I did absolutely everything you see. I put together the artwork for the cover, chose the title, the fonts, the format, the size the book would end up being, I bought the bar code, I even got to choose what kind of paper it would be printed on. The only thing I did NOT do was print them! For that I found a print on demand company in Michigan. When you self-publish, you do not have an agent, or a publicist, or even a promotional team. I’m it. It has been up to me to get the word out, and share it with as many people as I can. So here I am. Spreading the word.
I wish every person in the world would be able to gather strength from this disease and use that strength to FIGHT BACK. Do not allow cancer to win…..share awareness, look deep into your soul and think of ways YOU can make a difference. Slow down, enjoy life, and do the things you never thought you could.
Cancer is NOT the end of MY world.
Thank You Savannah Mae for allowing me to share my experience and book with others 🙂
‘Boob Envy’ Author, Shelly Jones