I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer with bone metastasis in January 2011. At that time, I was a working mom of two small children (14 months and 4 years old) struggling to get tenure at my university. I was recently asked to comment on how cancer has affected me as a mother.
I am sure that I have gone through many of the same stages that anyone diagnosed with cancer has, including denial, anger, grief, acceptance, etc. I really can’t say if my response to those stages is any different than every other woman diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. I do know that having young children has provided a necessary distraction at some points during my treatment, but also added to my confusion and grief.
At the early stages of my diagnosis, I was sure that death would come quickly. I cried a lot when I thought about my baby girl growing up without a mother or the fact that my kids wouldn’t remember me or have me there to remind them of how much I loved them. The thought of these things causes me to tear up even now. I thought that maybe I’d have a year or two but surely someone with Stage 4 breast cancer wouldn’t have much longer to live. I’d hear reports of women making it 5, 10 or sometimes even (miraculously) 30 years, but as a scientist I knew that the odds were (are) against me. I even had an oncologist that recommended that I make a 2-year plan, considering the seriousness of my diagnosis.
I have gone through many cycles of treatment and emotions over the last 13 months since I was diagnosed with cancer. I have gone through 20 weeks of chemotherapy, a mastectomy with lymph node dissection, physical therapy, radiation, many infusions of a bisphophonate, many scans (MUGA, PET, MRI, CT, bone scans, etc), lost my hair, re-gained my hair, and continue to deal with lymphedema.
I initially continued to teach, then had to take a leave of absence from my career as a chemistry professor (a job that I loved), then resigned my position so that I could focus more on my family, and now am trying to go back to work part-time. Being a mom has helped me keep so many things in perspective, especially during those times that it seemed the rest of my life was spiraling out of control.
I will live the rest of my life as a cancer patient, but I have the comfort knowing that I do not travel this road alone. Whatever may happen with my treatment, I have helped create two beautiful children. I will spend the rest of my life being sure that they know that they mean the world to me.