Until recently, I had been guilty of living my life, eyes pointed squarely towards my next life milestone: my first car, graduating from college, meeting my future husband and getting married, living and working overseas for a decade. At 28, I watched two pink lines appear telling me I am going to be a mama for the first time. And, one year later, seeing the same lines when I found out we were pregnant with a second son.
As our babies started to grow, I felt my life milestones become indistinguishable from my children’s; my first time seeing my son’s eat solids, walk, say “mama”. I felt like my life as a new mom was just beginning. That was my identity. And in a way, I thought I was thriving. But in January of 2019 there was a milestone I didn’t anticipate, and I didn’t want: at 30 years old I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
“Calcifications.” “Signs of Breast Cancer.” “Easily treatable these days.” “Category 4.”
The radiologist’s unnervingly calm voice echoed. Why did I go to this appointment by myself? Why was I so confident that I was ok?
I regretted it instantly. Where’s Paul? What about my kids? Where’s my mom? My heart, body and soul instantly regressed to the state of a child. My mouth went dry, and my words felt clumsy as I asked the Radiologist questions. I was fearful.
Is this really happening? I thought. I cannot do this alone. Of course this would happen to me. I wont see my kids grow up. I need to be strong for my husband and kids.
I spiraled. It wasn’t pretty. I had all of this support, but at the same time I felt so, overwhelmingly fearful and alone. I didn’t think anyone could understand what I was going through. I had never felt this grief before. The feeling of I could be dying, but I don’t know when it will be.
The next three weeks included several mammograms, two separate biopsies, genetic testing, MRI, blood tests, more ultrasounds and tons of calls with insurance. Parental responsibility and guilt consumed my conscience; I couldn’t miss one more milestone of my son’s lives. I just couldn’t.
Between tests and recovery, I spent every spare minute I had, exhausting myself with eyes constantly on our kids, recording every word spoken, memorizing every activity. I didn’t sleep well. I would crawl into their cribs and hold them, smelling them, stroking their hair as they slept soundly. The truest case of FOMO smacked me like a brick wall, and I was afraid each moment I witnessed with my family could be the last. I spiraled more and thought: if I do enough now, that maybe when I die, maybe they’ll remember me. As a parent with a potentially life threatening diagnosis, I was driven by fear to love on my children more, to the point where my mental health and stability were being compromised.
What if this is the last time we can all go to the snow together? What if I never get to take them to the train museum? Will they remember me? And bursting into tears as I walked through the Target stationary aisle, Do I need to buy special paper to write a letter to the kids for each year I am gone?
I needed to be strong for my kids. True.
But they also needed to be witness to our other reality:
Their mommy was sick. Their feelings DO matter. Grief takes many forms. God is faithful. I needed to go to the hospital many times. There were many physical activities I couldn’t do. I was on bed rest. A lot. I still love them with all my heart, even if I am not in the same room.
I was officially given a diagnosis of high nuclear grade Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ in my right breast, and I had a double mastectomy. The pathology from the surgery came back after the most agonizing 8 days. My cancer was 4x4x2in and located solely in my right breast. It had not spread to my lymph nodes. It was not invasive. I don’t need Chemotherapy or Radiation. They got all of it.
I turned a corner, but I was still an emotional wreck. But my community of friends and family met me there in that very messy space. I finally let people in on this journey that I had once thought I had to do alone.
My family was there to support me. Paul. Our kids. God. Our Church community. My parents and sisters, who had established lives and families of their own, dropped everything in order to drive me to/from appointments, watch Hudson and Caleb, relay any new information to within their own little group chat. Friends from the States and our old home in Australia had started a Meal Train and a raised money for our month of uninsured medical bills.
Our community prayed life over our family. Encouraged by their words, I saw myself as a warrior, faithful, a queen, I allowed myself to feel grace. Self-induced parental guilt no longer had a hold on my experience.
I had greeted this milestone with fear, but conquered it with my family.
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