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When Both Mommy and Daddy Have Cancer

For my husband, Brian, and I, raising our two children has already been the most important and challenging aspect of our lives. Obviously, we want to do everything we can to ensure they’re growing into respectful, kind and smart little humans.  There are so many expectations these days, so much pressure to be the best and have the best of everything.

In addition to today’s challenges of parenting, imagine raising a three and six-year-old while not just one, but both parents are going through cancer treatment. This has been our reality for nearly a year now.

First Daddy Gets Sick

My husband’s diagnosis of cutaneous B-cell lymphoma came first in May 2015. He underwent eight rounds of chemo and was in remission by August.  The treatment was hard on his body and he was hospitalized for an infection in his lungs in September.

Brian’s initial diagnosis and treatment was probably the most difficult part of our cancer process. It was so new at the time, we were in shock.  We were terrified and unsure of how to handle cancer with two small children.  I struggled to maintain everything myself through his treatment while fearing my children could lose their dad, a thought that literally brought me to my knees.

In November, I noticed a prominent lump in my left breast, but desperately wanted my family to have a stress-free holiday season, so opted not to do anything until the new year. I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Invasive ductal carcinoma in late February 2016.  My treatment would be much more intense than my husband’s including surgery, chemo, radiation and hormone therapy.

Now Its Mommy’s Turn

Now with the tables turned, my husband had to take care of the kids on his own following my surgery in March. I had a pretty intense reconstruction procedure that included microsurgery that required a week of monitoring in the ICU.  My recovery was long and when I came home I literally had five tubes with drains coming out of my body, three from the breast area and two from my hips.  My kids probably thought I was a monster, I looked like one!

It was difficult recovering from surgery with the kids. They couldn’t understand why mom was in this state and why they couldn’t sit on my lap like they always have.  My son, who was just two at the time caused me some added pain and complication.  It was the day I went to have the drains removed, a day I’d looked forward to as soon as I awoke from surgery to find these drains.  That morning, my son pulled the tube connecting the drain in my left hip.  Which pulled the stitches that held the tube in place right out, in turn leaving the tube free to slide in and out of my body as it moved, as I moved.  So, yeah… not ideal.

Helping Our Kids Cope

The most difficult part of it though, was attempting to vaguely explain situations to the kids so as not to include the “C-word”. We worried that if they knew mom or dad had cancer, a friend at school may have a loved one who had died of cancer.  Death was not a worry our children should be taking on at such a young age, when they can’t even fully comprehend the idea of it, let alone it happening to mom or dad.

I knew going into parenthood that there would be a lot of explaining and questions to answer. But how do you explain why mom’s hair is falling out by the handful?  How do you explain a port to a child, or what it’s for?  Our goal was to explain simply and with a positive spin if possible.  The port was a good thing, so mommy could get medicine to make her better more easily.  The medicine that would make mom better, would also make her hair fall out, but it would come back soon and probably even better than before.

We wanted to maintain as much normalcy was possible for the kids through my treatment. Even when it was extremely challenging, I got up every single morning and dressed them both, getting them ready for school like I always had.  That was one constant I wanted to maintain no matter how terrible I felt.

While I was going through the radiation portion of my treatment, my husband’s cancer unbelievably returned. I’m all about spending time with my husband and doing things together, but going to treatment together hadn’t really been one of my ideal options.  None the less, we found ourselves dropping the kids off at school and heading to the cancer center for his chemo and my radiation.  A place I so ironically remember driving by years before, being thankful it wasn’t a place my family needed to frequent.  Now we were both regulars.

Regular day to day life is exhausting, working full time and simultaneously caring for little ones. We now find ourselves adding the toll of treatment to the equation, which results in two very drained parents and still two active children with a lot of needs.  It’s really, really hard sometimes. But we make due, there’s a lot of team work in our household.  A lot of “you take this kid, I’ll take that one” or “you handle this mess, I’ll handle that one”.

On top of everything else, there’s so much to keep track of and so much to remember. With just one cancer patient there are countless appointments and follow ups, now make that two.  With just one child there are standard checkups and appointments to maintain along with endless special school days like pajama day, mismatch day, career day, teacher appreciation week, now make that two.  Now put it all together and onto my calendar, which also includes my crazy work schedule, it’s just basically overwhelming sometimes.  A lot of days, I don’t know if I’m coming or going.

None the less, this is the life I have and I love it.

It’s hard, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  At least in all of this mess, we’ve really learned to be thankful for one another and that time is precious.  We appreciate the good times despite the bad.  Most importantly we are teaching our children to persevere with positivity and strength in the face of adversity.

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