- Swapping stories about the birth of a child, a shared hobby or interest, or growing up in a certain era, location, or high school?
- One-upping another person about difficult co-workers, bosses, neighbors, teenagers, parents, etc.? (Honestly, the list is endless with this one!)
- Grieving together over the passing of a loved one?
It can be so powerful to connect with someone who “gets it” because the two of you have shared a similar experience. Firefly Sisterhood’s peer mentoring program is built on this premise, and this extends into other areas of our work as well, particularly our blog writing. By sharing real stories from real women in our program, our hope is that you feel more connected and less isolated.
“Parenting is overwhelming as it is—adding cancer to the mix was craziness,” begins Dana*. In the second of this four-part blog series, Firefly interviewed several women who have experienced a cancer diagnosis and treatment while parenting children.
For Dana, that child was a toddler, with a very limited understanding of illness and ability to meet basic needs. “My (child) was always the focus while I was going through cancer. I was Googling toddler issues—like biting and sleeping—working full-time, and ‘working-in’ my cancer when I could.” For Aiyana*, parenting both a 3-year old and a child under the age of 1, there was a “delicate balance between being a supportive parent and needing support myself.”
Despite their young age, babies and toddlers sometimes know intuitively that something is different or has changed when a parent goes through cancer treatment. “I was highly anxious the day I went in for a PET scan. My (child) spent the morning crying at pre-school, reassured by the teacher that all parents see the doctor sometimes and everything would be okay. I picked her up and immediately burst into tears when the teacher told me this—I hadn’t shared my diagnosis with the teacher and didn’t realize that (my child) had picked up on my anxiety and fears,” divulges Mia*.
As children near school age, they are better able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings but may not fully understand the full impact of a cancer diagnosis. For Aiyana’s 3-year old, “When we shared that I had breast cancer, my (child) asked if she was sick ‘like Grammy’ who had a cold at the time.” Aiyana decided to involve her child in some of her cancer-related hospital stays, doctor visits, and activities. “My (child) was included in my head shaving and (my child) held my hand and told me that I was pretty.” Chloe* found that her kindergartener shared her diagnosis with friends at school and asked, “Mom, how did they do that—with scissors?” when she showed her children her new chemotherapy port after surgery.
For Chloe, the most difficult part of parenting her elementary-aged children through cancer treatment was the terrible feeling that came with not being able to perform her typical mom-duties. “It was hard for my kids to understand that I wasn’t feeling well . . . again. That mom needs help around the house with cleaning . . . again. They didn’t realize and understand the severity of my situation, and that added stress.” Aiyana experienced similar feelings, needing reassurance that “I was doing the best I could at the time and that this was okay. That we would get back to ‘normal’ again.” She advises other parents going through cancer to “give yourself permission to take time to get well, be gentle and kind with yourself as a mom, and look forward to the future.”
Dana bought a journal and wrote in it daily, recording what her child was doing and what she herself was experiencing and feeling, hoping that one day “I can share this with my (child) and process my experience with (them) when (they) are an adult and can understand or want to know what happened.” Like Dana, Chloe captured her cancer experience in writing, giving her a reference tool for current and future conversations with her children. “Cancer comes up once in a while—I still have doctor appointments and anxiety—and I am open and honest about it if they have questions. They are still young and do not realize the depth of cancer yet.”
A sincere thank you to Dana, Aiyana, Mia, and Chloe for sharing their stories with Firefly. Join us in two weeks for Part 3 of this blog series as we explore parenting teens and adult children through cancer. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
*Names have been changed to protect participants and their children.
Written by Amy Tix, Firefly Staffer and breast cancer survivor, whose felt that the most difficult part of having young children while going through breast cancer was not being able to hug, cuddle, and read with them in my lap after surgeries.