A Mother’s Advice
My son is jump, jump, jumping at the trampoline park. I’m sitting on the mezzanine watching, a smile plastered to my face. I can feel the tightness of my eyes and the pressure on my chest. I am here, I am present...but I’m also miles away, lost in my own thoughts. Scan day is looming large in my mind as it’s only a few days away. I try to keep busy, but it’s hard to think of little else. Living with metastatic breast cancer, especially after being told your tumor markers have jumped recently, scan day reminds you of just how helpless you really are in this situation.
The jumping is a perfect metaphor for our lives, my son and I. We are up and down, alternately joyous in our smiles and tightly grim in reality. I’m raising my son in the shadows of cancer. Life is as up and down as it gets.
Often, I am asked how I do it. How do I mother my young son, alone, while dealing with metastatic breast cancer? My reply is always, he is entitled to his childhood. It is my job as his mother to give that to him, no matter the circumstances surrounding that. My son is a happy, healthy, magnificent child. It’s the biggest honor of my life to be his mother.
So I do my best. That’s all any of us are capable of doing. Our best.
Limits of capacity
As a teenager and young adult, I did not understand the limits of capacity. I thought every mother and father were all equally capable of performing the same tasks and display the same levels of parenting as every other they could be compared to. I often felt something lacking because of this. Like my parents didn’t love me enough or give me enough because I didn’t have the life my friends did. Today, social media makes this kind of comparison hawking so much worse for parents and children alike.
In my twenties, I had an epiphany. We are all at the mercy of our and others' capacity in all things. My parents love me the most they can and display that love within the confines of their capacity. I had the childhood I did within those parameters. This is not a negative thing at all, but a reality we all are subjected to. My child is living the best childhood I have the capacity to give him.
Doing the best we can for ourselves and our children
Unfortunately for some of us, cancer factors into what we are capable of on any given day. We are bouncing along with our trampoline lives, doing the best we can for ourselves and our children. When I’m asked the parenting with cancer question, my advice is always "do your best". Recognize your capacity and what you are able to do. Recognize that your ability will fluctuate daily. You can always give your best, whatever that is, each day. That’s what I give my son.
Parenting with a terminal illness
I often think that parenting with a terminal illness has to be the cruelest fate anyone can endure. While I would gladly take cancer tenfold as long as my child is healthy, it is a never easing ache to know that your life may be cut short before you can see him or her grow. To know that you may be the source of his greatest pain, a grief that will be carried ever onward, and has altering effects on his life is the heaviest burden to bear. It is also why being present with that smile is so important. What happens today will be the memory my son will carry. He is my legacy, his memory of me will be held in his heart for the rest of his life. Of course, that deserves to be the most important mission of my days, however many that may be.
Just remember that it may not be what you envisioned your life to be, but it can still be the best possible for you and your child. And cut yourself some slack. No parent is perfect, there is no right way to do it. Just keep jumping.
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to share that on Saturday, September 12th, 2020, April Doyle passed away. We know that April’s advocacy efforts continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer?