Parenting with Cancer: A Mother’s Perspective

Parenting with Cancer: A Mother’s Perspective

Saturday mornings look a lot different than they used to these days.

With my son Zack ruling the Schweitzer house, we’ve traded our gym memberships for Gymboree clothes and movie dates for play dates. Today’s goal – make a packing list for our upcoming trip to Sanibel Island, FL next month.

Truth be told, I never used to plan this far ahead for a long weekend. When you have a baby, planning ahead makes everything easier.

But when you are a parent with cancer or chronic illness, planning is an absolute must.

For the first 6 months of Zack’s life, I didn’t feel well a lot of the time. I needed to pace myself, plan ahead and be responsible with my health and how I was feeling.

Although I am beyond the Chemo and Radiation, I still have hard days, emotionally and physically. Cancer attacks the whole body, and we attack the disease head-on. It is on natural that our bodies take some time to get back into fighting shape after such trauma.

So as I sit here at the kitchen table, counting out how many onesies I’ll need (and then doubling it, just to be safe) I couldn’t help but wonder – what other habits have helped this Mom survive those hard months?

I can come up with a few.

Planning is Everything:

As you undoubtedly know, babies are both predictable and unpredictable. When is he going to need a nap? Or a teether or a diaper change? I don’t know. But I do know it’s as soon as I sit down for dinner.

All joking aside, our diaper bag is always at the ready, and I have found it imperative to bring about 10 things with me wherever I go.

Because of this, I put all of my personal “must-haves” in one convenient pouch that I keep with me always. At any given moment, I have my medications and supplements, lotion and anti-bacterial, ID, $20 bill, phone, keys and chap stick. That pretty much covers it.

I feel more secure knowing I don’t have to search every time I go out. I always KNOW that I have my ID, my medicine, and necessary supplies the same way I KNOW I always have a pacifier for Zack.

Lesson Learned: Anyone with chronic illness knows that problems and symptoms can arise at the worst moments. What are the things you can’t live without?

Put your Oxygen Mask on First:

I’ve been flying for as long as I can remember, but it is only this year that this phrase made sense:

“In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from above your seat. Always secure your mask before assisting others.”

In the days following my chemo treatments, I was unable to care for Zack. But as soon as I felt my strength coming back, usually by day 4 or so, I would try to be Super Mom.

This. Doesn’t. Work.

You cannot care of those around you, especially those that need you most (sick spouses, children) when you do not take care of yourself.

I unrealistically expected myself to magically bounce back after just 3 days and didn’t always give myself permission to “put my mask on” and take a nap or call a sitter.

Lesson Learned: When you are not feeling well, allow yourself to not feel well. If you are like me, and have that voice in your head that says, “You’re fine, you feel well enough, your children need you, society expects this of you, your job needs you”, don’t listen. Kindly tell that voice to take a long walk off a short pier, ask for help, and then go take a nap.

It Takes a (Virtual) Village:

This old adage was especially true for us in a very real sense.

While I was going through treatment, my husband Glenn was still running his very sucessful blogs about coping and thriving with his own chronic illnesses, Mind Over Meniere’s and Rewiring Tinnitus, had a weekly coaching caseload, was taking me to the doctor every other week, and learning to be a new dad every day. We needed a lot of help.

Luckily Glenn’s mom came down to stay with us for every chemo treatment and we had other family and friends that helped out in between.

What I didn’t anticipate was how much help I received from the online community. Reading stories and posts from other young women with cancer, young mothers navigating their unique challenges, and other parents with chronic illness gave me hope and a sense of belonging that nothing else really did.

Being able to share my story and receive love and validation from my peers in return gave me self-worth when mine was waning. Being able to provide support to others gave me purpose when mine was lost.

Getting a like or a comment or a message from someone that REALLY understands was priceless. Especially in my darkest moments.

Lesson Learned: Reaching out for support, guidance, or just to vent to those that really “get it” – even if it’s an online support group – is cathartic in itself. Receiving nods of approval from those that have walked in your shoes is even better. Today, give someone a like or a comment – tell them you have been in that same deep hole – that you understand what they’re going through. It just might change their day, or their life.

Final Thoughts:

This last year has been a challenging one, but it’s in these difficult times that we learn the most. I plan to keep planning, resting and relying on those around me when I need help.

And guess what? As soon as I feel like I have it figured out, Zack is going to start talking and saying “No!” and I am going to have to figure it out all over again.

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