the sad parts. the happy parts

Tonight Wills was working on a social studies project about his ancestors. ¬†We called grandparents and asked questions about when our family immigrated to the United States and why. ¬†It was fascinating (more so for me, then Wills, but he’s 10). ¬† In preparation for thinking about his ancestors he had to create a timeline of things that happened in his own first 5 years of life you can find out more. ¬† ¬†We talked about where he was born, his first word (ball! Always said with an exclamation point), his trip to Mexico at 6 months old, etc…¬† Nonchalantly¬†I said “you could add that¬†when you were two I got cancer.” ¬† When there wasn’t an answer I looked over at him and saw him starring intently at his paper as patches of red moved from his ears to his cheeks. ¬†“I’m not putting that mom.” He said. ¬† I sat down next to him and explained it was an important part of his life, a sad part, but nothing to be ashamed of. ¬†As I leaned down to talk more I noticed tears streaming down his face. ¬† ¬†For all the times I talk about cancer, all the programs he’s been to and listened¬†to me share my story – I’ve never once seen him cry like this. ¬† He wouldn’t look at me- he just stared at his paper as the tears streamed down his face. ¬†Our sensitive¬†ten year old – who doesn’t remember me without cancer, for whom life with cancer is just reality, couldn’t write it down. ¬†Couldn’t face the fact that has been all around him his whole life. ¬†My heart sank.¬†I reached over and wiped his tears and said “I know it’s hard to share the sad parts of life. ¬†If you’d rather not include this in your list that’s ok.”

I had no idea he was harboring such sadness. ¬†We regularly talk about cancer and share how I am doing in age appropriate doses – it caught me off guard that he wasn’t comfortable talking about it himself.¬†¬†The tears led to a nice conversation about how¬†it’s not something to be ashamed of or to hide from. ¬†It also reminds me that even when cancer is a part of every day like it has been for us since 2007, it isn’t easy for kids to understand or accept. ¬†He is scared. ¬†I am scared.

It breaks my heart to watch him cry. ¬†As a mom you set out to protect your children – at all costs. ¬†Bike helmets, car seats, parental controls on the ipad… Yet, here I am with metastatic breast cancer and I have the potential to cause him the most pain of his entire life. ¬†Watching his mom become sick and eventually die. ¬†The guilt and anger that comes from this thought is suffocating. ¬†How can I prepare him for this reality? ¬†How can I encourage him to talk about his feelings, to feel safe enough to share the sad parts of life with others? ¬†To accept?

It’s unfair that moms like me have to think this way… that’s why I am so¬†passionate about¬†research. ¬†I hold out¬†hope that I will be here long enough to see advances in science.

And I too will focus on the happy parts.

8 is Great!

8 years ago today I looked into the bright blue eyes of our second child – a healthy baby boy. ¬†I was so filled with joy and hope. Today I look into the eyes of a rambunctious, creative, caring, sporty 8 year old! ¬† Our little miracle. ¬†Our “chemo baby” we affectionately called him as we credited his bright red hair to the red chemo he and I endured 4 rounds of together before his birth. ¬†Today his bright red hair reflects his fiery personality as he enthusiastically declares breakfast for dinner as his birthday request! ¬† I stare at him thinking how¬†¬†9 days after he was born I started back to chemo and 3 months later had a double mastectomy. ¬†The entire first year of his life I was in treatment. ¬†I couldn’t nurse or care for him on my own for long stretches of time.¬†¬†As his hair grew, so did mine. It wasn’t the way I pictured motherhood, but it was our story. ¬†And, we lived it to the fullest.

56b94e564db921362a7f2c9bThen, for 6 years – remission. ¬† Good health. ¬†Great health! ¬†But, cancer was always part of our vocabulary. ¬†A framed picture of us both bald- nose to nose hangs beside Bennett’s bed. ¬†He used to ask me to tell him the story of “when we were both bald” as he lay in bed “stalling” the good-night kiss. ¬†Both our boys knew I had cancer and that I created Hope Scarves to help others facing cancer. They heard me talk about cancer often.¬†It was always behind us-¬†a story of perseverance … with a happy ending.

Until one day… when cancer invaded our life again. ¬†This time in the form of metastatic breast cancer. (which means cancer has spread beyond the breast. ¬†In my case, bones.)¬† I looked into the eyes of that baby boy who never knew me before cancer. Whose whole life has happened since cancer. ¬†And, I realized that I couldn’t change the fact that I had metastatic breast cancer. ¬†I would continue to¬†do everything I could to make my body, mind & spirit¬†as healthy as possible. For him and his brother… for our family.¬†¬†I couldn’t change the fact that I was in the 30% for which cancer spreads beyond the breast… but I could determine¬†how I faced it.

And, so today, we celebrate Bennett’s 8th birthday!¬† We also celebrate 8 years of normal, everyday life. ¬†Living life over cancer one day at a time.¬†And we look to the future with hope. ¬† It’s hard at times. ¬†Overwhelming. I’d rather still be living¬†the story with the happy ending- where we talk about cancer in the past tense.

56b94e34cb16b4174c562eb6Instead we live with a much greater appreciation for how precious life is. ¬†We are thankful beyond words for the continued good response I have to my current treatment. Cancer doesn’t dominate our life. ¬†But, it is a very real part of it. Every day. ¬†The reality is hard as I watch others¬†with metastatic breast cancer suffer. Today, my friend¬†Shayne died¬†–¬†a single mom with two little ones. ¬†She didn’t see her son turn 8. ¬† She isn’t here to tuck him in tonight or fall for his bedtime stalling antics. ¬†I’m overcome with anger and disbelief that 115 women die of metastatic breast cancer every day and that¬†we don’t more strongly align stage iv¬†research to ribbons.

It’s harder to celebrate in this reality of metastatic breast cancer. ¬†But, we do. ¬†Because we must.

The celebrations are what we live for.  And breakfast for dinner.  Happy birthday Bennett.

I love you with all my heart and all my soul.  forever.