When I made the decision to have children, I always knew that being a single mother could possibly factor into the equation. It’s not something you go into a relationship or a marriage preparing yourself for intentionally. But for reasons I won’t go into, I always knew that my ex-husband and I wouldn’t be together for the long haul.
However, becoming a single mother of two AND a cancer patient? No, I wasn’t prepared for that. Managing baseball games, gymnastics classes, martial arts training, play dates and birthday parties–and that’s just for my children–while going through chemo. I never gave too much thought to it. I took it on, am still doing it, one day at a time.
Since beginning my cancer journey, I have been told by friends and family how strong I am. Brave. Courageous. One tough cookie. How proud they are of me for managing my health with such positivity, while raising two children on my own, going to school and everything else in between.
But the truth is, when you’re going through something like this, you do what has to be done. Sure I’ve had my moments of doubt, of wanting to quit chemo, of thinking “screw this, I’d rather be at home spending time with my kids than in the hospital getting more blood work or another infusion of chemicals.”
I let those moments come in briefly to acknowledge them, honor what I’m feeling, then move on. Life is too short. Too precious to be wasted on negative thoughts, negative energy. Regardless of what anyone feels or thinks, that clock keeps ticking away. I’d rather spend my days surrounded by the ones I love, helping others, raising my children to be genuinely decent human beings. Giving love, embracing forgiveness, moving to the beat of my own drum in tune with the rhythm of life.
Going back to being labeled as strong…
When I hear people say how strong I am, sometimes I don’t know that it sinks in. Every human being is strong in some way. Some of us are emotionally, some physically or intellectually. There are so many ways for a person to be strong.
No one knows what it’s like to actually go through this. No one but those of us in the cancer community. My mother knows what it’s like to see me in a state of complete exhaustion. My father knows what it’s like to be there for my children when I’m too nauseous, feeling too sick to function. My siblings know what it’s like to watch me connected to an IV line of medication, sitting in the infusion suite for hours on end until treatment is done. But only a cancer patient knows ALL of the ups and downs. The things we keep hidden from family members to prevent them from worrying more than usual.
I don’t see myself as this brave woman going through cancer treatment. A fighter, yes. A woman doing what she has to do to survive, absolutely. But it’s so much more than that. I’m doing what I have to do to so that my children and I can live our best life, expand and thrive. They’re going to have memories of mom wearing that chemo pump for two days. Memories of them having to get popsicles, ice cream or frozen yogurt pops out of the freezer so I wouldn’t experience the tingling pain of pins and needles from touching something so cold.
But they’re also going to have the memories of family get togethers and BBQ’s, traveling to Maryland to see their grandparents and uncle, going to Florida on vacation, playing the Wii with me, summer fun festivals and dance off competitions with their goofball of a mother, mommy and me gymnastics, playtime at the park, snuggles before bed and movie night madness, going fishing with Grandpa and kicking the soccer ball around in the back yard with Grandma.
Our lives have all changed in some way since my diagnosis. But the quality of my children’s lives, of my life, has only gotten better. I think because when you’re given a life threatening diagnosis, even when the prognosis is a desirable one, you prioritize your life more. I can’t speak for other cancer patients but I know this is true for me. You bid “adieu” to toxic people, value the healthy relationships in your life, make time for the people who make time for you out of love.
Being diagnosed with cancer allowed me to open up to newfound strength. Like a “secret treasure” as my daughter would say. There was hidden strength locked away within the depths of my soul, I was able to tap into a part of myself that I never knew was there. So do I have a great strength within me from all of this? Most definitely. But do I consider myself a strong person? I suppose. Mostly I see myself as stubborn and resilient, unwilling to let cancer take over my life.
I see strength in the eyes of my mother, every time she has to drive me to chemo. The hope that these treatments are working, the pain of watching her daughter going through all of this. It’s hit her harder than anyone, harder than me. That woman has unrelenting strength and I love her so much because of it. The strength to care for two small children when she has to work forty plus hours a week, just so I can get a few extra hours of rest. The strength to watch the transformation every treatment week of my energy being zapped for two or three days.
The people around me, surrounding me with love and healing energy, those are the strong ones. The people who silently stand by me, unable to “fix” me or do anything other than offer emotional support. That’s strength. Watching someone you care about go through a cancer battle, being selfless enough to care for them, stay with them emotionally–not everyone can handle that. I’m thankful for the people in my life who can. But also thankful to be able to let go of the ones who can’t.
The best advice I can give any cancer patient is to take everything one day at a time, focus on the positive, the good in your life and know you can get through it. No matter how crappy your day is, your living situation, health or whatever the circumstance may be–gratitude can be found in everything. Don’t take anything for granted, including yourself. Perseverance of the human spirit in the face of adversity is a powerful thing. Don’t give up on yourself and always always count your blessings. None of us know for certain what the future brings. What kind of legacy will you choose to leave behind?