Parenting And Cancer - How Do I Do It?

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

Many of you share a similar experience with me in what being a Mom is all about “the kids” AND… sports, school, homework, discipline, birthdays, holidays, and the never ending mind of worry. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is one hurdle to jump over on your own, but when you have kids, it can add another layer of guilt, fear, and anxiety. I blogged about how I shared the news of my diagnosis with my boys and you can read more about that here.

What I have been thinking a lot about lately is how much of my mind is consumed with the “what if’s” when it comes to my children and how I cope and overcome these thoughts and emotions. I know you look at your kids and silently beg: Let me get to see you graduate… Please let me be there to watch you get married. Please, oh please, let me be around long enough for you to remember me. I know you have a desperate need to stay alive for your kids, and it breaks your heart to think of the alternative. I know you because I am you.

Let’s back it up, throughout treatment, I parented from the couch, kids spent hours upon hours on electronics and if they weren’t doing video games we were cuddled up watching movies, or they were and I was sleeping. My first chemo was a week before my son's 10th birthday, normally we have 4-5 kids over, supper, presents, sleepovers, and I am running around refereeing all of it. That year, I had much less strength and energy and so my husband and I decided on 3 friends and that my he would take them to a hockey game which would be for most of the evening and they would return and pretty much head to bed. My best friend came over and helped with dinner and organizing the basement for their return. My son, knew no different, this was special for him and he had a blast. Me, I pushed through for him, all I wanted was as little as possible to change in their lives. Which sometimes was at the expense of my health.

Christmas holidays were soon after, I was getting weaker and weaker with each treatment, I managed to do every last bit of shopping online. My Mom wrapped all the gifts for us and we splurged a little as we felt everyone needed that pick me up. Again, kids had the same if not better Christmas morning then ever. Okay, so let’s get to the real story, me. I was sooooo unwell Christmas day, I felt the worst physically I had felt to date, and mentally I could not stop thinking was this my last Christmas morning, would I not see my kids jump out of bed and the excitement of opening gifts and laughing and showing me all the goodies they got?

Which takes me to why I decided to write this. Almost 2 years later, I still struggle with this very thought. What if, is this the last time, who will keep this tradition going, will my husband be able to be a Dad and Mom, how will this affect my kid's long term and the list goes on and on.

The other day my now almost 12 years old said my sweater smelled good. We were cuddled up and he was playing a video game. I didn’t think much of it until I saw him sneak a few more sniffs here and there. I wondered where that moment was going to be stored in his memory, will it last, and will there be more of these times?

I can’t help it, my reality is that I have a much higher chance of not seeing my babes grow old, get married, and have their own. It sounds so sad and negative, but if I am being real this is what a Mom with a cancer diagnosis/survivor/previvor/thriver experiences. We may look more like ourselves then ever, our hair is growing back, we are getting more of our new normal under control but the inside voices are there and loud.

What this diagnosis has done is allowed me to not sit back, I refer to “the beach” I no longer watch my kids from the shore, I ride the floaties, jump the waves and play ball in the water right alongside them. I say yes more, I watch more, I listen more, I have more one on one date nights with them, I make favorite snacks more, I read one more book, I let them have one more minute and I say I love you and I am proud of you every chance I get. Now, don’t get me wrong, this house is full of No’s… I have 2 loud and crazy boys with zero boundaries who take a ton of guidance, discipline, and patience. Its all a balancing act.

It's tough to wonder what life would be like if I wasn’t here, how would the day look like, birthdays, holidays, bedtime, and the overall well being of my husband and children.

When these thoughts start to take a hold of me, I remember I am here today. Making the most out of these moments. Reading one more book should have been part of my life before cancer. These boys are 2/3 of the things that matter the most to me in this world. The other, of course, is my supportive and loving hubby of 14 years who is beyond capable of making an amazing life for our kids, but Mom’s just have something different about them. Right?

I ask my kids all the time about how they are doing, I find quiet times that I know they might open up. We openly talk about my diagnosis, how the last time we might have done something I was sick, and this time I am not, and how awesome our family is to recover from the trauma. We speak about the tough times, the scary times and I am open with them about how sometimes Mom is sad and worried. However, that today we are here and healthy and all the things we are grateful for. The positive effects of these discussions can lead to long-term benefits for family relationships.

My kids are stronger then they will ever know, this will one day resonate with each of them and they will look back at how much their life changed after I was sick. Not in the day to day but in the compassionate little human beings that they grew up quickly to be. Every single day during treatment my kids asked how I was feeling, they were quiet when I napped and adjusted to Dad being their go-to.

Kids are resilient, they don’t get the credit they deserve. They cope in ways we will never understand. My oldest would draw mazes with “cancer” as the beginning and “no cancer” at the finish line. I don’t believe he even knew that was him processing what his Mom was going through, but it was and it was in a way that made sense to him and that he was looking to the positive outcome. But it's important not to underestimate the ability of your child to comprehend difficult situations and deal with them in an appropriate manner, whatever that may be for them. As you learn to cope with a cancer diagnosis, do not forget your main purpose as a parent: to teach them what you know.

  • Don’t go it alone, call on friends and family to help with kids activities and keeping them social

  • Dump some “to-dos”, what can be put on the back burner?

  • Open communication-based on the child’s age

  • Keep routines similar

  • Change up how you spend time with your children, maybe you can’t go outside but could play a board game.

  • Let go of the hard and fast rules which you might have had before your diagnosis

  • Engage your children to help, that everyone in the family needs to pitch in

  • Care for yourself, its easy to overlook your own needs. You can’t take care of a family if you are not taking care of yourself.

I worry more than ever about my kids, I am grateful for them and the hooligans they are every day. I am more bonded to the two of them in a way I cant even explain. For all that I am extremely thankful. How can something so dark, so scary, and worrisome turn into the very thing this family thrives on in everything we do?

We are not in control of any of this, or the outcome. Your medical team will leave no stone unturned with treatment options, but there are no guarantees with cancer. Terrifying, but also freeing. Let this be a reminder that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, and we need to live our lives today.

“When I had nothing to lose, I had everything.”- Paulo Coelho

Resources for supporting your child and parenting through cancer and parenting can be found HERE.

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