When Mom Has Cancer

I was filling out a paper for my daughter’s doctor’s office. ‘Have there been any major changes in the household?’

‘Yes. Her mom had cancer and was hospitalized for a year.’

Are my kids going to be okay? Do they understand how close they came to losing me? How much is this story of mine going to write their stories in the future?

Parenting, as we all know, doesn’t come with an instruction manual. And neither does a cancer diagnosis. I am 9 months post-transplant and still taking medication. My family and I have recently moved into a new home in an entirely new state. It is Spring and everything is brand new everywhere I look. New doctor, new town, new bone marrow, new me, and a new way of living our lives.

I won’t pretend like I know all of the right things to do in a situation like dealing with an illness with young children, but thanks to a strong foundation I had already built with my daughters and some pretty amazing social workers at City of Hope, I’ve learned a few things that might be helpful.

Be Honest. Always.

Sugar-coating is dishonest and creates tension between you and your kids. We didn’t say the word ‘cancer’ for the first month or so of my diagnosis. But guess what? If your kids are visiting you in a cancer hospital, they are going to see brochures. They see signs. They see other sick people. And they may be young, but they know something big is happening, and their imaginations are going to be far scarier than a loving explanation from their parents.

Talk about the hard things.

“When people get cancer in the movies they die.” That is how my oldest daughter expressed to me that she was concerned that I wouldn’t live through my treatment. And to be honest, I was scared too, and I couldn’t hide that. But this was a wonderful opportunity for me to remind both of us that plenty of people in real life live long and healthy lives after an illness. And that what we see on TV is made to be dramatic and evoke some kind of emotion, and is very rarely a real representation of real life.

Don’t try to keep things normal.

Things are not normal. Pretending that life is going to sail along smoothly and exactly the way it was before is exhausting for you and confusing for them. It is so much better to embrace what is actually happening around you and teach your children to surrender to days filled with love, trust, and a new kind of normal. Each morning I give the kids a sort of ‘mommy report’ of how I’m feeling, how much energy I have, what I expect of them and what our plans are for the day. It gives us some consistency even in the chaos.

I hope that you never have to navigate the complicated waters of parenting while sick, but if you do, I hope these three tips can help bring a little bit of light to the dark. And if you know someone who is going through their own diagnosis, pass this along if you think it will be helpful!

I am now a resident of the beautiful Eugene Oregon, and my recovery is going well enough that I will begin working again soon, starting with placenta encapsulation. I am thrilled to be able to be a part of the birth process in some small way again! If you are in this area, reach out and say hi. We can’t wait to meet our new friends!