On Being a Survivor and a Mother

“Will we have to get scars, too?” asked my 4 year-old at the dinner table last night.

Though my abdomen was completely covered, as it normally is, her thoughts turned to the very long, very ugly scar that runs down the core of my body while she chewed her dinner.

“No, baby, you won’t have to get scars, too.”

But how can I know that for sure?

To have been a cancer survivor for so long – nearly 25 years out of my nearly 40 on this earth – leaves me with uncertainties that can never really go away. Most directly about myself and my health, but also regarding the health of my two daughters. The cancer I had should not be hereditary, but given how rare it is, how do they really have conclusive data to support that claim? Also, chemo hangs out in your body for years and years after you are treated; how do I know that residual chemo won’t affect my children’s health? And, as if I needed to add to my list, I had major surgery while my first child was in my womb. Those are some serious drugs to run through a 23-week-old fetus. Is she really OK?

If I carried those worries with me every day and acted on them, I probably would have to do some involuntary time in the locked up section of a hospital somewhere. I have my moments, but mostly I do OK with all that information. But when my preschooler asks me if she will have to have a scar like mine? That’s rough.

Truthfully I don’t know if she’ll ever have to have a scar like mine. Truthfully, I don’t know anything about her future. The list of things that could go wrong takes my breath away if I don’t stop thinking about it. But just as truthfully, I have learned to enjoy the moment I am in. To squash those thoughts of what could happen with thoughts of how, right now, everything is just fine.

We laugh a lot in this house. We are goofy and sarcastic and playful and we know how lucky we are. To have our biggest daily worries rank pretty low on the list of the World’s Problems is something we do not forget or take for granted.

But sometimes, in the midst of being high on life, those sobering realities kick in: I had cancer. That will always be true. I will always have to check that box on my health history. I will always have to have that long conversation with doctors who are new to me. And, with the lack of long, looong term survivor care, I will always wonder if there is something else I should be doing, for myself but now for my children as well.

Being a mother is challenging. Being a mother and a survivor? Better than the alternative, for sure.

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Comments

  1. Feels very truthful- the uncertainty that can bubble up in the midst of happy family life. I think you’ve nailed what to do: keep right on jumping and laughing and going. And writing. You’re good at it.