It has been almost exactly 5 years since my world was turned upside down with the words “It’s cancer.” In those years, there have been many things that sustained me: my family, my friends. I know I’ve written extensively about how my girls in YSC have held me up and helped me keep it together.
But another thing that helped me through this hell-ride of cancer survivorship is the voices of other bloggers with cancer. Through the magic of the interwebs, we were able to find each other, encourage each other, and be there for each other. These voices, I could recognize from just a couple sentences of their writing, but in many cases, I could easily pass on the sidewalk without recognition,
because we never met.
Last night, another one of those voices was silenced. Lisa Bonchek Adams died because of breast cancer.
It’s a little confusing for me. Despite all these deaths I’ve experienced over this handful of years, I still haven’t learned how to appropriately grieve, to mourn these women who, for a short while, traveled this same bumpy road with me. How do I mourn someone I only know through facebook exchanges, and blog comments?
But I’m making this about me. I’m furious and sad for children who were separated from their mother, for her husband, for her real-world loved ones, as well as all the lives she touched with her words.
But she will live on through all the lives she touched. She will live on through her words, her blog, so I will close this with a quote from Lisa:
“Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.”
I know that one of my jobs as a parent is to teach her how to deal with disappointment – but not like this; this isn’t what I had in mind.
We should be working on learning how to gracefully accept that she gets what she gets for dinner, and not necessarily a doughnut.
We should be working on accepting the fact that she’s not getting a pony for her birthday.
We should be working on understanding that all fun activities end eventually, and when the playdate is over, we need to gracefully go home.
Instead, we had to cancel our vacation last minute because I came down with influenza. She was so excited about our trip to Alaska, but I was far too sick to take her anywhere.
I sat down in her kid-sized green and white polka-dot easy chair and pulled her into my lap. “I have some bad news,” I said, “we can’t go to Alaska tomorrow because Mommy is sick.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” she repeated several times, and then she stopped. “It’s okay, Mommy. I know sometimes we can’t do things when you get sick.” She rested her head on my shoulder a bit, then ran out to the living room to play as if nothing had happened.
It hurts the way she has normalized my illnesses, Mommy being sick is just part of her life. Stupid cancer keeps messing with me, even when it’s not cancer.
To the mom who brings her child their own cup cake to a kid’s birthday party:
I know you get looks from the other parents, but I understand.
Food sensitivities are nothing to mess with.
I know you stayed up late working on that cupcake. You made it extra pretty.
You brought it, not because you were trying to make your child feel excluded, but just the opposite, you wanted her to be a part of this party, and you wanted her to have a treat, just like all the other kids. But you had to make it safe for her.
It’s not easy to see your kid on the outside, and I promise you, I will not take your kid’s special diet lightly.
To the mom who’s wondering when she will start to feel like a grownup and have all the answers:
I’m sorry, but we only have all the answers about how other people should parent their kids.
The moments of feeling like a grownup are rare, but most of the time you have the bills, the responsibilities, the mouths to feed, the guilt about your own shortcomings, and conflicting advice from all the usual suspects, but not so much with the answers.
You feel like you haven’t quite arrived at being a grownup, until one day you wake up and realize you’re old.
Of course, feeling old is no guarantee you’ll have the answers. Same old questions, new arthritis.
To the mom of the toddler throwing a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store:
I’m sorry I was staring. I promise I wasn’t judging you; I’ve been there, and I was reliving it. The world is full of people who think the wailing and kicking are because the parents always cave, but I know that that little fit was because you didn’t cave.
Or maybe it was just because the store was out of Spiderman toothbrushes and the Incredible Hulk just wouldn’t do.
I’ve encountered so many people who believe children should be seen and not heard, and for that matter almost never seen except for when they’re being perfect and adorable. They would never admit they believe this, but they give themselves away… “why don’t they just take the kids home when they fuss?” people wonder.
But I know.
I know you and your children would starve if you took the kids home every time they threw a fit.
To the mom who is tired:
The mom who will go to bed soon, but first she has to make sure the clothes make it from the washer to the dryer before they sour, load the dishwasher, and get the kid up for a midnight potty so she doesn’t wet the bed…
I know you’ve been told before that you need to take care of yourself first, so you have the strength to take care of the kids.
I also know you’re just going to keep doing what you feel like you need to do.
I hope, sometimes, you get the rest you need.
The kids will grow, and soon they’ll be able to pour their own bowl of Cheerios. They’ll destroy the kitchen in the process, but at least you’ll get to sleep in for 20 minutes or so.
To the mom who is living with cancer or another life threatening or chronic condition:
I’m right there with you.
I know what it’s like to wonder how much time you have with your kids.
I’ve listened to my baby cry, unable to pick her up and waiting for someone to come bring her to me, feeling helpless and maybe a bit useless.
I’ve had those dreams that ended with someone else raising my child.
I’ve wondered if I was enough.
I’ve wondered if I could hang on long enough that she would be old enough to have memories of me. I’ve wondered if it would be easier for her if I didn’t.
I worried that I was letting her watch too much TV, but let me tell you something, TV is awesome. Besides, SuperWhy taught my daughter how to read.
Now I worry about my relationship with my own patchwork body, and how I can help my daughter develop a healthy body image when I still feel like my body betrayed me. My husband and I joke about my million dollar body, but I still miss those missing parts, I’m still anticipating the next body part failure.
To the mom who apologizes to her kid after losing it:
Thank you for showing your child that adults make mistakes too, that making mistakes and learning from them is part of being human.
Thank you for teaching your child that what you do after a mistake is often as important, if not more important than the mistake itself.
Thank you for modeling that behavior. It’s so awesome for kids to have a real live example, so they know what a meaningful apology is supposed to look like.
To the mom who is lonely:
I’m lonely too.
We’ve got the kids, but there’s only so far I can follow a conversation about My Little Pony or Minecraft before I really need to talk to another adult, and my husband doesn’t get home till late.
How do you connect with the parents of the other kids at the playground? Even when your kids hit it off and you have a nice conversation, there’s that awkward moment where you work up the nerve to ask about a playdate.
Sometimes you’re just not able to work up the nerve at all, but when you do, It feels like you’re asking the mom out on a date. You give her your number and wonder, will she call?
And they don’t always call.
Sometimes you meet up and it’s awesome, up until it’s time to go home and then your kid is the one who throws the epic tantrum that can be heard from 3 blocks away.
But every once in a while, you make a friend.
To all these moms, and to all the other moms out there:
Let’s stick together, lets have each other’s backs. Raising humans is hard, it’s exhausting, and it’s often a thankless job so let me just take this moment to say thank you.
I was getting ready for Get Hitched Give Hope, an amazing, annual charity event that pairs wedding planners and vendors with happy couples planning their nuptials, and the proceeds benefit two organizations that support people living with cancer: the Young Survival Coalition and the Dream Foundation. It was my biggest formal event of the season, and the driving Seattle rain had just gone horizontal.
I was so glad I arranged with Vera to have stylists come to my home to do my hair and makeup. I could get beautified at home in my pajamas, and not have to brave the weather until I left for the party.
My hair likes to frizz and be difficult, and on a rainy day like this, I needed help. Tanya Joseph came over to do my hair.
Since she was right there in my home, I could show her my dress and jewelry, so she was able to make suggestions that would balance the neckline, accessories, and my hairstyle.
I washed it right before she arrived so it was ready for her to get started with a blowout.
And then we had a lovely chat while she did my hair.
I’m telling you, even in this tiny apartment, I felt like royalty having someone come over to help me get prettied up.
After Tanya finished with my hair, Megan Yamamoto came over to do my makeup.
Megan showed up with a coolest tower of tools and sooooo many pretty colors. Her hands worked magic with a palette and a few palette knives, blending colors and shades and consistency to find just the right mix for my skin.
She listened to my fears about too much color on my face, or the way my eyes get lost in shadows with too much smokey eye shadow. She found a good balance, and while I was a little nervous at first, I loved the look when she was done.
By the time they were both done getting me all prettied up, the sun broke through the clouds and we were treated to a stunning rainbow.
I kept thinking how much easier it would have been to have stylists come to us for my own wedding.
The rain held off for the rest of the night, and I had a lovely time at the event with some of my favorite people.
My hair stayed beautiful all night long, with nary a frizz, my makeup stayed put and looked fabulous, and Get Hitched Give Hope raised a lot of money to help people living with cancer while helping a lot of love birds plan their weddings.
Rather successful day all the way around, I’d say.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Vera and the stylists for providing these services to me for this special event at no charge.
A couple months ago, after a Tour de Pink training ride, my friend and fellow cancer survivor, Karen Lawson, posted a selfie on Facebook, and wrote, “Love these legs and the 57 HILLY miles they just carried me up.”
I was surprised when my eyes welled up at reading her post.
In the nearly 5 years since my breast cancer diagnosis, one of the things I’m still working on is forgiving my body, and learning to develop compassion and even appreciation for my body – mutant genes and all. Cancer felt like a betrayal; my own body turned against me. I’ve learned that I am not alone in feeling this way. Many other cancer survivors are also working on developing healthier and more compassionate relationships with their own bodies.
This is one of the many ways in which connecting with a network of young breast cancer survivors through the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) has helped me in recovering from the physical and emotional toll of cancer and treatment.
The big fundraiser for YSC each year is the Tour de Pink, a challenging, yet scenic 200+ mile bike ride, one on each coast.
It’s not a coincidence that YSC raises money with a bike ride – a physical activity that takes dedication, months of training, and builds strength and confidence in the participants. That’s right in line with what YSC is, and who they serve.
These photos and quotes are from dear friends of mine who participated in this year’s Tour de Pink.
People often ask why I would ride my bike 200 miles. My response is simple: “because I can.” I’m only 34. I’ve been through so much and lost so many friends because of breast cancer. I can’t cure cancer. I can’t bring the 40,000 that will die from this dreaded disease this year, but I can push myself for 200 miles and raise funds for YSC.
Yes, I ride because I can; and because I know that if ever I’m unable, my sisters will ride for me.
– Erin Johnson
Last year was my first TDP ride, and to be honest, I did it for myself. I wanted to challenge myself to ride 200 miles after taking up road bike riding just a few months before. I was really proud of myself when I finished the 2013 ride and couldn’t wait to ride again this year.
My reaction when I finished this year’s ride was quite different from the self-satisfaction I experienced last year, and it surprised me. While I was happy I had successfully completed the three-day ride, I felt another wave of emotion as I was sitting on the beach at Point Mugu. All the riders had crossed the finish line, had lunch, and were preparing to board the bus back to Thousand Oakes. I took a moment to sit quietly with myself, on a bench a bit removed from the heart of the activity, and just took it all in.
I looked at all the riders — survivors, supporters, friends and family — and realized that every one of them had some burden they were carrying, whether it was the angst associated with their own diagnosis, doctor’s bills, sore muscles, whatever. But at this moment, they were all lost in the revelry of having completed a really tough ride together.
Everyone was happy and celebrating, and forgetting — maybe just for this brief moment — all their other worries. It moved me to tears, and it was then that I realized that I do this ride not only for myself, but for everyone else participating as well.
It sounds cliche, but the collective burden carried by everyone else riding is so much heavier than my own. I HAVE to ride, even if it takes up my weekends to train, I need to juggle child care, and I have to ask my friends and family for donations (again).
I’m riding again next year.
– Sheila Cain
It’s #GivingTuesday. I love this new tradition. We are nearing the end of the year, so it’s time to think about giving, especially after a month of focusing on gratitude. I give my time and energy to the Young Survival Coalition, mostly because they helped me keep it together during and after cancer treatment.
You don’t have to ride a bike 200+ miles to help address the unique needs of young women with breast cancer. You can donate to YSC directly today. These funds are used to provide an online meeting place where young women can connect with others in similar situations to safely and discreetly discuss issues like the impact of cancer on body image, sexual dysfunction, raising children while going through treatment, pregnancy and cancer, fertility and many other issues. YSC also sponsors local groups were young women can meet up face to face, provides funding for educational programs, and treatment guides for young women who are recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
I just returned from a quick, four-day trip to Washington D.C. for ProjectLEAD with the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
Coincidentally, my daughter’s kindergarten class has been learning about Washington D.C. in their social studies segments. She wanted me to be sure I got my picture taken with the President.
I got this close.
The White House is beautiful at night.
Our schedule for this trip was very tight: 7:30 am to 7:30 pm, so I did not actually see daylight, with the exception of one quick run to Starbucks, and then the cab ride back to the airport on the last day. But I wasn’t there for sight-seeing or picture taking, we had much more important things in mind.
I’ll be posting much more on this project in the near future.