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Parenting Through MBC

Editor's note: In this article, the author shares her experience being a mother and talks about losing a child.

I do not consider myself a professional of many things; however, a professional cancer patient is one. You can checkmark "professional cancer parent" on the list as well. When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, my twin daughters were four, and my son just turned 3. It’s been eight years since my diagnosis, and my twins are now almost 13, and my son is 11. I have had the great privilege of watching them grow - because that has been an absolute privilege. This privilege has been denied to many of my friends. I was given 18-24 months to live upon my diagnosis, so being their Mom through these years has been the most challenging, rewarding, chaotic, emotional, complex, beautiful, heartbreaking, and joyful experience. I have learned a lot over time, and over the upcoming months, I will share everything I have learned about parenting with metastatic breast cancer.

Metastatic motherhood

There is no one definition of being a mother. It encompasses many different facades. It is more than just merely a state of being, as the definition proposes. It’s not just giving birth and raising a child. Motherhood is a deep inner-woven and innate experience. Motherhood cannot sum it up with a few simple words. My heart feels as if it was literally fabricated for motherhood. I always wanted to be a mother. When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I thought, “This is it. This is what I was meant for”. I loved every minute of being pregnant. It was the most incredible feeling . . . until it was met with absolute heartbreak.

My first daughter passed away at just three days old. A combination of congenital disabilities gave her a less than 1% chance of survival. I held her tight and sobbed as she took her very last breaths. The grief that enveloped me over the next year was almost too much to bear. Then, my double blessings came: my twin girls. They repaired a piece of my soul that was splintered. The following year, we welcomed my son. And life was good. Here I was, a mother to these three tiny humans . . . and I rocked it. Every waking minute of their lives, we played, explored, learned, and loved hard. I was "that mom" who lived for her kids.

Symptoms

I put my own life, needs, and cares on hold for my kids. Not for any reason other than I was just plain busy. When I started having issues, I assumed I was just a busy mom and getting older. My stomach was always upset, my back hurt bad, I was getting headaches, and then this cough came that I could not shake. But when my breasts started making changes, I had this agonizing feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was not going to end well.

The grief of a metastatic breast cancer

When the doctor told me I had metastatic breast cancer that spread to both breasts, through virtually every bone in my body, and covered my liver, I broke down. I just kept asking, “Am I going to die?” and she could only answer with “I am going to try and not let that happen.” I knew that from this moment forward, life would never be the same again. I would never be that same mother. Not only did I have to grieve my diagnosis, but I also had to grieve the idea of how I thought life would be. I had to grieve the mother I was and learn to accept this new kind of motherhood. A terminally ill parent raising three little ones, not knowing if I would live the next few years, let alone the next few months. I had no idea how I was going to do this. How could I take care of myself, fight to live, and raise a family?

Nearly nine years later, I look back over those first few months after my diagnosis and wonder how I did it. I don’t have answers as to "why me?" or even "why you?" but I know I was meant to share a story. I have learned how to parent while living with a terminal disease. Motherhood is hard; mothering with metastatic breast cancer is even more complicated. I have to share my hurt, pain, love, and joy: I want you to know that you are not alone, mama.

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