While raising two kids in a new city was already challenging, Michelle was crushed when she received a Stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis that was shortly reclassified as Stage 3 based on spread to the lymph nodes. No one in her family had ever faced cancer, and she was years and decades younger than many of the women she saw during chemo and doctor’s appointments. When her partner left and her brother took his life, she, too, was ready to give up.
After receiving “the gift of desperation,” Michelle shares how she found the will to live, the strength to parent, and a newfound dedication to caring for herself and her family.
As mothers, we try to protect our kids from pain. We do it with good intentions and love, but I really feel like my kids physically seeing me in pain—losing my hair, going through the fight—is going to benefit them later on in life. Not only how they view me, but how they view themselves.
I have an 8-year-old son who has autism, and he has a very hard time at school. Every day is a battle to get him to even go to school. A lesson that I tried to teach him is: Sometimes in life, we have to do things we don’t want to do. We want to give up. It’s just not fun, but we have to do these things so that it benefits us in the end.
I told him, “You see me going to chemo every day. I don’t like the way chemo makes me feel. I don’t like the way it makes my body feel. I don’t like the way it makes my emotions feel. I hate chemo.”
I was very expressive.
I said, “I can’t taste food. My hair’s going away. I used to love my hair. I don’t like chemo at all, but you see me going back every time because chemo is going to help me get my cancer out.”
One day, I saw my son getting ready. He was really frustrated and said, “Mom, I really don’t like school, but I’m going to go. I’m going to do it because you’re doing chemo, and you don’t like chemo, but it’s helping you. I know that school is going to help me later on, so I’m going to go. I’m going to go to school.”
We constantly remind ourselves that the journey is hard, and we want to give up a lot of times, but the end result is so beautiful. And it’s so rewarding. We just have to go through this rough road.
That mindset has really helped me, and it’s helped my kids as well. Now that they’re going to see me go through surgery, that’s another bump we have to go through together. They’re going to see me weakened again—but as a family, it’s strengthened us because we have to ask each other for help.
It might feel like you’re breaking the unspoken-perfect-parenting rules, but I’d encourage every mom or dad facing cancer to be honest with their kids.
Be honest with your kids about what you’re feeling. Let them know “today I don’t have a lot of energy so I can only do this.” Don’t overwork yourself trying to do it all. I was trying to take my kid to gymnastics a day after getting chemo. It’s these unnecessary things that we put ourselves through when we can simply ask for help. We can ask somebody to take our kids to gymnastics for an hour.
We don’t have to do it by ourselves, and we don’t get a trophy for putting ourselves through hell by going through treatment and doing all these mom things at the same time. We’re allowed to rest.
Be honest about your feelings—about what you’re capable of doing. Be honest with yourself, too, first and foremost, about what you are able to do. And love on yourself.
I was not an iPad mom before my diagnosis, but if my kids are eating cereal and frozen food and watching TV for a day or two because I don’t have the energy, that’s okay. My kids are going to survive and they’re going to be okay.
My kids are my main motivation for all of this. They deserve to have their mom, and they deserve to have a mom who’s thriving.
Click here to read Michelle’s first post about using her “gift of desperation” to find strength and support during her breast cancer treatment.
National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to getting you the help you deserve.