Evan, our 4 year old, asked me the other day if I was still sick. It made me sick to my stomach when he asked me that, seemingly out of nowhere. And he will occasionally mention the time that he saw me in the middle of a grand mal seizure. Kids are oblivious to a lot of things but are also super perceptive and sensitive to other things, or even different parts of the same thing. This makes parenting as a cancer patient a little hard to navigate sometimes.
Usually I can speak about my cancer and approach the fact that I’m considered terminal pretty confidently as my hope and assurance rests in God and He is actively sustaining me every day. It’s easy to talk about, almost to the point where it feels normal sometimes, casual even. I mean, living with cancer is still living after all, and my day to day life doesn’t look probably all that different or more weird than anyone else’s, well, some parts at least haha. But when it comes to my kids, ugh, I have such a mental disconnect there. It’s all easy until the paths of my cancer and my kids cross. I try to keep them wholly separate, but that’s not always possible, like when my son asks if I’m still sick. That’s where I feel sad, desperate, and like I don’t have this as much under control as I like to think.
I mean, so much has changed in the past year, just so much. Still hard to believe, but I’m more and more able to wrap my head around it as these permanent changes are just becoming normal life now. Something that struck me as I was reminiscing (I do that way too much), is that the anniversary of my diagnosis, October 24th falls right directly in the middle of our kids’ birthdays, Brit turned 2 on October 15th and Evan turned 4 this past Monday, November 3rd. That means that half of our daughter’s life and a quarter of our son’s life has had the dark cloud of Mommy’s cancer hanging over it.
There was desperation when I was first diagnosed and lots of changes that absolutely affected the kids. For one, Mommy doesn’t look the same and she sure can’t do all of the things she did before. Surgery specifically was a really long and hard recovery where I didn’t feel like I could do all the things that I would have liked to as a mother. And now with this arthritis in my spine from the chemo, well, let’s just say it’s an issue sometimes. Mommy goes to the doctor a lot and Mommy is tired quite often. Through radiation, surgery, seizures, chemo, all of that junk that has limited me physically, I do feel bad on some level for my kids that they don’t have the mom that they should or that they deserve.
But physical demands of parenting aside, I do believe this experience has made me a better mommy in some ways. I have so enjoyed the intentional loving bonding time we have had. I know everyone says to cherish every moment with your kids because they grow up too fast, and while this is so true, my issue is that I want to squeeze every last drop of worth out of every moment so that they know in their hearts how much I love them. And that even if Mommy goes to heaven soon, that it was never my desire to leave them ever. I need them to understand what Christ did for us and why He had to do it and that I’ll see them again someday if they choose the narrow path. And, the deepest cry of my heart, as selfish as this may sound, is that I want them to remember me. I cry as I write this because, well, Brit just turned 2 and who knows what my timeline is going to look like, but God hears my cries and knows my heart and I believe He will allow this for me. This is about as close to despair as I’ve ever been. It’s a sense of loss, a sense of grief, and a very real sadness when I think of all the things that, without continued miraculous intervention, I will miss out on. Stories at night, little sicknesses here and there, silly dances and jokes, prayers and devotions, baptisms, sports games, report cards, driver’s licenses, weddings, etc. I feel a sense of loss for all of these things.
But if cancer has taught me anything, it is definitely to live with intention. Everything is an opportunity and every day can have meaning if we are open to allowing that. God has shown me, through the privilege of having my babies, just a glimpse of how He loves us and that motivates me to do the best I can while I’m still here to do it.
This year will be different. I’m determined to make 2 and 4 better for the kids than their last year was. I know that I can’t protect them from everything and I know that the suffering that they will inevitably face in their lives will produce endurance, character, and perseverance, as Paul reminds us in Romans. I just don’t want a single second of that suffering to be because of me. I know that’s not in my control, but as a mother, that’s how I feel. I pray that they on some level understand that Mommy is doing her best and will fight, as hard as I can and as long as I can, to stay with them. I hate these times where my cancer and my kids’ paths intersect a little, but at least it’s reminded me that I need to be present while I’m still here.
I read on a reputable cancer site that once brain mets are shown in melanoma, that the typical prognosis is 4-5 months. That was 6 months ago. I’m still here and I’m not going down without a fight, I have just too much to stay for.