Mothering. What I’ve Learned from my Mom’s Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Cancer.

This six letter curse word is all too increasingly finding its way in to the homes of loved ones, friends and acquaintances. We see the “Rally for…(insert name of child, mother, brother, sister, father here)” Facebook pages, lending support to someone facing the (literal) battle of their life. We scroll through the pages, we sympathize, “like” and move on. Then one day, someone WE love is affected by cancer, and it’s a punch in the gut.

Last month, my family felt that pain when our mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I heard the words it felt as if the wind was taken right out of my lungs. She will, ironically, begin chemotherapy in October, Breast Cancer Awareness month. Surgery will follow, as will radiation. The months ahead will be undIMG2951eniably rough.

A mom is a family’s North Star. She is the pillar of strength and guidance. She is the caretaker and cheerleader; there to pick us up when we fall, wipe away our tears, and tell us everything is going to be OK. But what happens when she is the one needing the care taking rather than the care giving? What happens when she is the one needing encouragement to keep fighting? This realization has been a hard pill to swallow. Knowing the battle in front of her, I have realized she’s not the invincible superwoman I have always envisioned. She is just like the rest of us, mortal.

Being a daughter is a special privilege. It affords us the luxury, as we begin our journeys into motherhood, of knowing the depth of love our mothers feel and the sacrifices they were willing to make to ensure they raised good people. We acknowledge and understand, as a small child we needed her help finishing math homework and bandaging scraped knees. As an adolescent we needed the motivational speeches and reality checks. Now as adult, and a mother in our own right, we still need her (just as desperately) but in a much different way. We need her to teach us how to give a first-born baby a bath, and to give us a break from a tantrum-throwing toddler so we may roam aimlessly around Target for an hour in silence. Not surprisingly, when our family received the wrenching news that she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I still needed her to tell me it was all going to be OK. In true mom form, she was there to wipe away my tears, hold my hand, and give me the strength and courage to cope. I KNOW she will get through this with the utmost grace, but realizing the battle will be long and hard for her is heartbreaking.

In the weeks since she has been diagnosed, some important lessons of motherhood have been realized. They are simple lessons. Ones I have heard before, but now finally understand.

  1. We are stronger than we realize
    In the trenches of motherhood, we can be consumed with feelings of guilt and worry. Wondering if we have the strength to face another sleepless night or cope with a child’s illness seems daunting. Often it feels as if our minds and bodies have no other energy left to give. Remember this: we, as women and mothers, are strong, resilient and capable. We often don’t know how strong we are, until we have to be. We rally. We cope. We forge ahead. We HAVE to be fearless because we are responsible for lives other than our own. They are looking to us to show them the way.
  1. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff
    Let’s not wait for a life-changing moment to make us appreciate the life-making ones. The simple and sweet, the tough but touching, they are what make life worth living. The missed nap times that lead to grouchy afternoons can put us in to a tailspin. The not-so-Pinterest-worthy third birthday party makes us feel inadequate. In reality, these inconsequential battles are merely a blip in the lifetime of motherhood. They do NOT define us as mothers. They bring us together as a sisterhood of women, taking care of the ones we love, and doing the best we can with the knowledge and resources we currently possess. Our kids will NOT remember on the first snow day of the year, the lack of educational snowflake crafts Martha Stewart would endorse. Instead, they WILL remember the killer snow ice cream you let them eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can personally attest, as this is one of my favorite memories from childhood!
  1. Savor the moment
    It should not take a diagnosis or tragedy to appreciate the blessings in our lives. As we look in to the sunrise of motherhood, we tend to wearily see the long day ahead. Our mothers, however, often look back at the sunset with bright eyes and a loving embrace. They remember the drudgery we feel like we’re going through, and look back at it with a smile on their face and warmth in their hearts, wishing those moments back. So take a second, the next time you find yourself tired and resentful and remember in the grand scheme of motherhood this tired day might be one of many, but you will look back on it providing a lifetime of joy.
  1. Sometimes we just need to laugh 
    Despite the suckiness my mom will be enduring over the coming months, what we can look forward to are the moments we will have together, laughing and making jokes. We are already prepared to listen to mom pull the “cancer card” in order to get what she wants; awesome Christmas presents, a foot rub, a sandwich. The list will probably be endless. We will oblige with a smile on our face. Laughter is often the best medicine, and I plan on throwing every joke I have at her.

At the end of this journey, I will be comforted knowing we will get through this together. My mom will be there to wipe my tears of sadness as I watch her fight, and tears of joy once she’s won the battle. And I’ll do anything and everything I can to be there for her.

Thank goodness she also taught me how to throw a really great party so that we can clink wine glasses in celebration when she has beat it all!

**In honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, remind your mom, sisters, aunts and girlfriends to perform monthly breast self-exams and to talk to a doctor about when to schedule a mammogram. It saves lives!

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