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!

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Beyond Bubble Baths- Self Care for Homeschooling Parents

   Homeschooling parents and stay-at-home parents of young babes~ I'm thinking of you today! Is your life as hard as mine is? Let's be honest... sometimes this sucks. Even on the best days, when your kids are so amazing and you love their little spirits and you got so much done- parts of it can still really suck.

   I know that in many ways I am a very lucky mama. My kids go to bed easily and quickly. I'm not sleep-deprived. They do well out in public, travel easily and are very independent, which allows for me to get more done. That's all great! I love those things!

   But as someone who needs personal space, time to decompress and quiet moments throughout the day to feel like a whole human, there are a lot of periods of time where I feel my insides crawling because I am with my kids. All. The. Time. 

   And then when I am crumbling and struggling because of this relentless closeness, I am already not my best self when inevitably the youngest has a meltdown over something. The oldest cries because I am making her sit down and do something besides read chapter books all day. A client calls and I step in something sticky on the floor and then notice that it's been too long since I did a load of laundry...

   It's ironic that I chose this life for myself. This stay at home, school my kids myself life. Because I really like routines and rhythms. I really like predictability and schedules, and truthfully, I really like working! I won't go into all of the reasons that I chose this for my family and why I think this is what is best for us right now, but suffice to say, it isn't my natural state.

   Sometimes I have to find things throughout my day to keep me going ~ "If I can just get through this next few hours I will lay down and read a book." "Yay, go you! The kids are still alive, drive down to the health food store and buy some of that overpriced chocolate you like!" You know.. totally normal things like that. And when I hear other homeschooling women gush over the incredible journey they are on with their children- expressing gratitude and love and getting big heart eyes over how amazing their lives are, I have to bite my tongue and resist the urge to ask, "Okay... but do you really? I mean. Come on. Do you actually feel this way, Carol? Because I'm drowning over here!"

   I am still finding my way and uncovering what mothering and homeschooling looks like for us, but something I have learned, especially lately, is that self-care is even more important for me now than it ever way before. Not just reading about self-care in a magazine and lighting a candle, but really actively taking time each day to take care of myself. Staying in the realm of children and schooling, here are some things that have become useful for me as far as self-care, and that might help you out too. (And if you have tips for me- please comment below and help a mama out!)

  • Let your kids see you taking time for yourself. If you are homeschooling, you have committed to teaching them about life and the world, and that means real life. This world. They will be watching you, and it is okay (more than okay- necessary!) to show them what it looks like to fill your cup so that you can continue to give to others. What this looks like in my house is expressing myself when I've had enough ~ "I'm sorry girls, I had plans to play that game with you, but I'm feeling very drained and I think I need to meditate instead. I will help you set up the game to play yourselves, and then I will be over here taking a quiet moment." Or, "I've been very busy, I'm going to lay down on the couch. You can lay down with me or find something quiet to do." They've seen me do this for their whole lives, and I can see it paying off in their lives when my 7 year old requests a break from play dates to stay home and read, or asks to do a yoga class with me, or even sit on her own meditation cushion between assignments!
  • Yoga. Yoga every dam day! Even if it is a few twists before bed, move your body. It is grounding, you feel better, and you commit to breathing intentionally and fully for however long you spend on your mat. It isn't indulgent and you are always happy when you're done, so just do it. (Bonus points for making to a studio, but that's not always a possibility, so for real life, there's YogaGlo)
  • Spend your Sunday evening preparing and planning for the week, and then be okay with letting it all go. Every Sunday I sit down with a giant, obnoxious wall calendar where I schedule in everything that is going on for the week. On it I write down what is happening for myself, my kids, my husband, and I even write in my meal plans for each day. Each day gets 1 "big chore" that I will attempt to accomplish, and a plan for our school work. I write it down, I hope I stick to it and I set myself up for success by preparing the lesson plans, prepping meals and giving my house a good cleaning~ but I know things will probably happen mid-week that will throw me off. So that brings me to my next useful tool...
  • Have a back up plan. I always have easy assignments or school ideas that the girls can do with minimal help or explanations, an easy back up meal in the cupboard (hello trusty spaghetti!) and some relevant documentaries and/or podcasts for the girls so I can do what I need to do while they are still learning something. Back up school work for us is usually a stack of printables I found online, Kumon books (our favorites are cursive and math), short YouTube documentaries that I have watched ahead of time, the NPR Wow In The World podcast, yoga classes online, and of course, library books.
  • Let go of what you think schooling should look like, and do what makes the most sense for your schedule. My kids really love to sit down and "do school" as they call it. I used to try to do this for them 5 days a week by creating a small classroom setting in our dining room, and sitting down to actively work on the day's lessons together. But this quickly became unrealistic for me. I just couldn't make it work every single day, and then I'd feel bad! So instead I started looking at my week's tasks, and I started to nestle schoolwork into my day, rather than scheduling my day around school, and the girls just had to learn to be okay with that. We have 2 big Ballet days in our week where we spend an hour or more in the car getting to and from ballet, and then an hour and a half at the ballet studio. I do this every Wednesday and Thursday. So I began to allow myself to work, clean and do what I needed to do Wednesday and Thursday morning, and then schoolwork gets done in the car and at the studio for whichever kid isn't dancing that day. We are already stuck there anyway, we might as well pass the time by learning!
  • Lastly, one of the things I have found to be the most useful is to learn with your kids. To be honest, some of this homeschooling gig can get so monotonous, and stressful and just ugh. I live a lot of my life in my own head~ I'm not a playful, run around the playground, just be a kid kind of mom. I am a read a book under a tree while the kids play kind of mom. Homeschooling requires some level of playfulness to keep the little ones involved and enjoying the process, so I've found that when I am excited about what we are learning, I can give that excitement to them and not feel completely drained.

I think that overall, my biggest lesson in homeschooling is that this is my life too. As much as it would be incredible to be able to pour everything into my kids and have our entire day sweep them up in tornadoes of fun and learning adventures, that's just not possible. This isn't an episode of Barney. You have to take care of you so that you can be there for them.

Let me know what you do to take care of yourself in the comments below! I can't wait to hear it, because in this life of always giving, giving, giving to the tiny people you've created, I've learned there's really no such thing as too much self-care!