Dear Fellow Cancer Mama,
Do you ever feel like you’ve been blind-sided by your child’s diagnosis? Do you ever feel like things are out of your control, like the world is spinning fast but everything in your life has ground to some kind of nightmarish crawl?One Sunday as our family drove home from church, talking and singing along to our favorite songs, we heard an explosion from the back of the car. The singing immediately stopped, and everyone screamed as we frantically searched for the cause. Our back window was shattered, tiny shards of glass heaped in a pile across the back seat and floorboard. We pulled over and watched as a deer teetered feebly away from our car, his head swaying slightly. We could hardly believe what we were seeing–A deer had bolted out of the woods and collided with the back window of our Honda! The scariest part was that we didn’t even see it coming!
Mama, that deer is like childhood cancer. One day you’re driving down the road of life, children happily singing, and without warning you’re slammed with a deadly diagnosis. It’s surreal. It’s hard. It’s like nothing you’ll ever experience, and it comes out of nowhere.
When that deer hit our car, it took a little while for us all to catch our breath and take in what had just happened. Before we could move again, we had to console the children. And of course, there was lots and lots of glass to clean up. So much glass!
It feels like that, doesn’t it? You’ve been hit, and yet you have to keep moving. You have to pick up the pieces and keep going even though you’re crying and it’s scary, and you have so many questions. How did this happen? Why didn’t we see it?Here’s what I know because I’m a cancer mom too. I know how it feels to be blind-sided by something that has the potential to destroy everything you love. I know how it feels to take in the news and know that there’s nothing to do except keep going. I know how hard it is to pick up the pieces when all you want to do is bury your head and pretend the whole thing is just a very bad dream. The most important thing I can tell you is to lean into other cancer moms. Cancer moms get you. When you feel like the world doesn’t understand, and you feel like you’re living life in a fishbowl with the constant stares, lean into us. Lean into those who have had to go before you. We will embrace you and pick you up. You’ll find solace within our tight-knit group.
Mama, when you see pictures you posted of your child just days before diagnosis and shake your head wondering why you couldn’t see the sinister, rogue cell that was rapidly dividing inside your healthy child, we’ll remind you that we were there too. When you hear a date and realize your calendar has changed because BC now refers to “before cancer” and AD is now “after diagnosis”, lean on us and let us surround you.
When friends comment on your strength but you feel like a soft breeze could break you in half, fall apart on our shoulders.
When cancer treatments are finally finished and the world expects you to return to your previous normal life, you can share your pain with us. For we know that the life you once knew will never return. We know that a childhood cancer diagnosis is a life sentence, and you’ll grieve the life you once had for many years to come. We understand that your new normal isn’t fair.
The childhood cancer world you’ve been inducted into leaves many scars. We know these are not evidence of our weakness, but rather our resilience. The reality is that you’re going through a war. The first part of the war is physical, and when remission is achieved, the war turns mental. Fight every day for your mental freedom.
For years, we would find pieces of broken glass in the back of our Honda. Every time we vacuumed our car, we thought surely this was the last piece. Then months later, we would find a new piece of glass, a forever reminder of what took place on an otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon. Every shard of broken glass reminded me of that terrifying day when the deer slammed into our car without warning.
As you live your new normal, you too will find shards of glass for years to come. Ragged and sharp, you will cut yourself on anxiety or fear or memories or PTSD.
Keep picking up the pieces. What happened yesterday will always be a part of you, but your tribe is here for you. Cancer mom, your shards may come in the form of anxiety or fear or memories or PTSD but face them head on. Don’t be paralyzed by yesterday. Don’t dread tomorrow. Your tribe is here for you.
Sometimes, when I’m driving down the road I’ll pass by the place where the deer hit us that day. The memory is clear and just as scary when I think of it now as it was the day it happened. The deer was a surprise. We weren’t ready. We didn’t see it coming. Sometimes, though, I’m glad I didn’t see it coming because I don’t know what I would have done. I’m thankful for the strength I had in the moment. I know that’s all we have, these tiny, precious moments with the people we love. The moments make a life, both beautiful and fragile. Sometimes, something breaks, and I’m grateful that no matter what I’m not left to pick up the broken pieces alone.
I’m here for you, Cancer Mama.
Tami Arrowood’s daughter Audrey was diagnosed with an ovarian germ cell tumor when she was eight years old. Tami and Randy have four children and serve on the Rally Advisory Board.
Photo Credit: Ashley Russ