We hear “you are so brave,” “you are so strong,” but sometimes we are not. We cry. We breakdown. We are racked with fear, anxiety, doubt and terrible thoughts. It’s hard to listen to accolades of our strengths that we did not choose to demonstrate. They came about from the necessity of our child’s pain and fight for life.
Today, on Mother’s Day, I don’t want to congratulate my fellow cancer moms on times they appeared to subdue the terror and fear. Instead, I want to honor the skills and magic they perform while scared, devastated and broken.
I’ve seen a momma perfectly fill and prime a feeding tube bag while balanced on her small lap and the 1.5” arm of a chair. Her comfort and expertise on making a work surface in a waiting room clearly only coming from doing this countless times, half asleep.
I’ve watched an exhausted mom rock a child who is well beyond the customary age of being held. Her arms and lap miraculously expanding to encompass her baby’s broken body. Continuing to and fro, although her arms and back are screaming to stop.
I’ve seen parents turn boring, sterile medical waiting rooms, stripped of toys due to COVID, into a pirate ship, a race track, a fairy castle. Orchestrating magical distractions out of spare medical supplies and limitless determination.
I’ve studied tired Grandmas examine and decipher the expressions of their grandchild to understand their current medical state. Interpreting mumbles, cries and grunts. Analyzing pallor, respirations, and squinting eyes so they can advocate correctly.
I’ve seen artists, teachers, childcare workers become expert momcologists. Lab trends and normal CBC values imprinted on their brains. Reciting genetic abnormalities and 6 syllable targeted therapies in casual conversation. In the same breath, being grateful for a potential cure, while lamenting the way the cure will have its own permanent costs.
I’ve listened to cancer moms counsel other cancer families. Lean in and walk another family through the struggles, routines, highs and lows. Talk parents up and down through rational and irrational concerns. Celebrate and mourn together as they understand the difficult days that lead to that moment as no one else can.
I’ve heard the moms ask questions; hard questions she doesn’t want to know the answer to. Ask questions that require her to prod and confront people who have decades of education and expertise. She researches and studies, endlessly, to try to understand the answers and make sure no questions were left unasked.
I’ve seen moms give-up: give-up tampering down her temper, give-up holding in tears, give-up being polite. I’ve seen moms tired in every sense of the word. Physically tired of carrying pounds of medical equipment and supplies. Tired from disturbed sleep as worry and medical needs never, ever stop. Tired of carrying everyone’s expectations of strength and perseverance. Tired of biting the inside of her cheek, so she does not cry.
I’ve seen moms wail to their physician in the hallway, as tears run endlessly down their face. Their child leaning on their arm as they play on a tablet. With each tear and terse word from the mother, the child can play with background confirmation of their mother’s love and devotion.
Sometimes they are not strong. Sometimes they are not brave. Sometimes they don’t hold it together. The pain and hard times are sometimes too much for the strongest, bravest mom. But even then, in those terrible moments when we give-up, there is love. The love never stops. It’s there in tears, fear and even when hearts stop beating.
To all my fellow cancer moms and caregivers, I know that even when you cannot be strong or brave, the love you give and show each day is limitless.
I see it.
This blog post was written by Jennifer Hershberger, cancer mama to Griffin who is currently fighting Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at St. Jude’s Hospital. If you would like to follow Jennifer, you can find her on instagram at @Herdingbergers. Posted with permission.
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