It wasn’t long after the birth of my first child that I began thinking ’Good Lord, I’ll never poop alone again!’
That’s the dirty little secret that nobody warns you about. One day you’re this free-wheeling, laidback couple with barely a care in the world. And then BAM! Suddenly you’re a frenzied, exhausted mess and the sole caregiver of a whole new human being.
I’m repeatedly amazed that the human race is not on the ‘endangered species’ list.
There was a steep learning curve involved in becoming a first-time mom. The fierce, unequivocal and unconditional love came naturally, but the realization that this little person was watching and emulating my every move was unnerving (to say the least). Parenthood already seemed to be a daily lesson in humility, self-control and patience…and then I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Immediately after sharing the news with my daughters, who were just 9 and 12 years old, I knew that my every move was being examined. My conversations were scrutinized and my facial expressions were considered. My youngest daughter quietly studied me and seemed to have an insatiable craving to be physically attached to my side. She spent countless hours on the couch with me, oftentimes carefully navigating a way to snuggle with me without hitting my port. Other times she simply needed to be in my space, the physical presence of me providing her with some perceived sense of security.
If I allowed myself to briefly imagine that my girls were not gripped by the chaos of cancer, my oldest daughter was sure to remind me. My creative, sensitive, free-spirit wasn’t just watching me, she was photographing me.
She captured me crying when the first notes of encouragement and gifts of support began arriving in the mail. She photographed my feeble attempt at a stylish pixie haircut just before losing my hair and my pathetic attempt to look strong in a pink Wonder Woman t-shirt after all of that hair fell out. She took pictures of me looking pale and frail in a hospital bed and more pictures of me weeks later in the post-surgery recovery room. She reminded me, over and over again, that she was watching. Closely.
The hardest part of cancer, for me, is knowing that my girls have seen things that can’t be unseen. They saw me struggle and cry and, sometimes, scream. They saw me attached to IV lines in a small, cramped room full of cancer patients. They saw me sick and bald and lying listless in a hospital bed. They saw it, they saved it and they filed it away in their memory bank.
I want to erase their memory bank.
Post-treatment, I struggle most with this thought; this fear that my girls will never lose that memory of me, never be able to shake the image of their frail, sick mother. I hate it.
I’m not certain if my anger is a healthy motivator, but I freely admit that it is a factor in navigating my new normal. I desperately want to replace the memory of cancer-stricken-me in my girls’ brains. I want them to see me looking and feeling healthy. I want them to see my resilience, my fortitude, my grit. I want them to see and feel my resolute determination to live.
It’s this sheer determination that has me convinced that I will cross my first half marathon finish line this November. It’s also the reason I take every opportunity to train alongside my girls. I want to cross finish lines with them, arms raised in the air and sweat dripping from our foreheads. I want to erase the image of poor, weak mom from their minds and replace it with an image of a strong, resolute, determined mom. I’ve never wanted anything as desperately as I want this.
And so I signed us all up to run the Sparrow’s Nest Superhero 5k this past weekend, where we proudly flaunted our knee-high Wonder Woman socks, complete with tiny capes. And, together, we ran across that finish line.
My oldest daughter took this picture and posted it on Instagram with the caption, “We don’t run for mom, we run with mom…”
And there it was. Proof that they are still watching and my determination is winning. #SparrowStrong