Being a Mom with Breast Cancer


The other day a Facebook memory showed up. It was a picture of me with my bald chemo head with my 3-year-old son wrapping his arms around me giving me a big kiss. These were my words that day:

Today was a hard day.

In my journal, I’m calling it “week 10 (of treatment), the day of the cry”

I cried a lot today. From frustration. From doctors being nice. From wanting ALL the doctors to be nice. From thinking about crying. From getting a nice gift at the end of the day.

It’s not the cancer that sucks so much. It’s the other crap. The parking deck traffic jams. The difficulty when requesting a new plastic surgeon. The person snoring in the next treatment room who is not drowned out by my music.

I didn’t go to work after treatment. I came home and sat outside to read. A bird pooped on me after 10 minutes. I went inside and napped for a few hours.

Before bed, I told Will I liked when he puts his arm around my neck to give me a kiss. So he said ok and I made John take a picture.

That memory and next week being Mother’s Day has me thinking about parenting with cancer. This post includes some snippets from my journal and some insight from my Facebook posts over the last year. 

When I was diagnosed in January 2021, my son was two. I wonder if because he was so little, it made it easier to talk with him about what was going on. We had to talk to him on his level. I don’t know that my husband and I ever had a conversation to decide how we’d handle this with our son, we just did what we felt was right in each moment. 

I know we talked to our son about me going to the doctor. There’s a journal entry from when I got my port placed. That was a weird procedure and I was sore for a good while after it was put in. I must have talked about it because I wrote that my son told me the next day, “Mom, I will help you not hurt.” Insert heart emoji here. He’s a sweetie. 

Then there was an entry on “Chemo Eve”. I was worried and nervous. I was reading a bedtime story to my son and he laid on my chest to cuddle. And I couldn’t handle it. I was just thinking about how eventually I wouldn’t have boobs for him to lean on. I started crying, so my husband had to finish reading. The next morning, I was writing in my journal and my son asked what I was writing. I said it was notes for myself. Of course, he wanted to participate, so there is now a page in that journal with his scribbles. 

When my hair started falling out I told my son that I might have to shave my head. He suggested that if I put a clip in my hair it wouldn’t come out. So that’s what we did for that night. Clip my hair. I also remember when I wore bandanas a few times and he wanted to wear one with me. Thinking about this again makes me proud of my empathetic child. 

The hair moments were a recurring thing. I think my son wanted me to not shave my head. Then we made it a party. Then when my hair started to grow out he constantly told me my hair was “getting so fluffy”. Then when I actually had hair he told me he wanted me to be bald. Have to love that 3-year-old stage when they want the opposite of reality. 

We live 12 hours from all of our family. That makes it hard to rely on grandparents and aunts for babysitting and help. However, we were fortunate that both my mom and mother-in-law were able to visit some. My mom was able to come help us for a few lengthier visits. She came in the middle of chemo treatment, again toward the end of treatment, then came again when I had my mastectomy. It was great to have help with things around the house and with entertaining Will so it didn’t all fall on John. After one of the visits, my mom left at 4:55 am. Will woke at 5:05 and at 6:48 am John said, “oh, no grandma to relieve us anymore.” To be fair, we react the same way after a grandma leaves now, even though we’re both healthy and able-bodied. 

There were many days when I was tired. Mostly weekends. I napped. And read. And didn’t play a ton. Then there were days I was guilted into going along with activities. This was a post from July:

I was cranky today. Was reading. John was going to take Will to Railroad Park.

Will: “Mom do you want to come to Railroad Park with me?”

Me: “Not really”

Will: “But it’s fun. There’s a slide.”

Me: “Well the slide isn’t for me.”

Will: “But you have to come watch me.”

So we all went. It was hotter than hot. But fun. And then I made us get lunch at Hero Donuts.

Before going in for my mastectomy we told Will that I was going to the hospital. He asked why. We said because I was sick. So he wanted to know where I got hurt. I said, “In my boobs”. He then said, “No, WHERE did you get hurt?” He wanted to know HOW I got hurt- did I fall or something. We said it just happened. We tried to prepare him for me being very sore and not being able to carry him. We told him I would have big band-aids. A week after surgery, I showed him my scars and drains. He then watched me empty the drains (which is kind of gross, emptying fluid build-up into a cup). He asked why I didn’t drink it. And continued to help me. 

The moral of my story of having a toddler and working through cancer is that it all just happened and we just kept going. This was my Facebook post the day before my double mastectomy:

Want to know what happens on the day before a mastectomy? Life. Just regular life.

Work (with a desk full of goodies). Appointment. Car wash. Vacuum. Call with sis and kids. Call with grandma and grandpa. Texting friends. Bedtime books with Will.

The thing about cancer is that life keeps happening. Which is actually a good thing.

Life just kept happening. And the kid just kept being a kid. 

There were days that Will provided comfort and comic relief. There were days when he felt like a burden, too much to handle. Those different feelings are exactly how we felt before cancer and how we feel after cancer too. Kids are complicated; cute and cranky, fun and frustrating, smart and sassy.

Who knows how my cancer journey would have been without a child. I do think having a toddler provided some distractions. Without play and stories and watching him grow, I might have just laid around feeling sorry for myself. 

Cancer sucks the energy out of you. It interrupts your schedule. Throw kids into the mix and it’s even more to manage and worry about. To those in the middle of cancer right now who have kids, I see you. I see your partners and families too, rearranging schedules and priorities to get through. It’s a lot. Hang in there. And take people up on the offers to watch your kids for a few hours!