The irony was not lost on me that my mom had died from cancer when she was 48 and I had received my breast cancer diagnosis just a few weeks after turning that same age. The irony was not lost on me that on the 21st anniversary of my mom’s death, I was at Memorial Sloan Kettering to be cleared for my cancer surgery the following week. The irony was not lost on me that just like my mom, I was being stubborn as hell in thinking that I could tackle this all on my own and not “inconvenience” anyone else in dealing with this challenging journey that I was about to embark on.
But my hope is that this is where the irony stops between my mom and I. My hope is that after 21 years, the prognosis is better for me than it was for my mom. While I have always cherished the similarities between us, this is one where I need the outcome to be different.
While it didn’t seem fortunate at the time, my mom had gotten to be my mother for 27 years of my life. Don’t get me wrong, there are millions of things that she still missed out on, like the chance to see me get married (or even meet my husband), the chance to see me have a successful career, the chance to see me follow in her footsteps and immerse myself in charitable endeavors, and most importantly, the chance to meet my two amazing sons whom she would’ve adored with all of her heart.
But the thing is, my sons haven’t gotten 27 years of me yet and they still need me here to guide them, protect them, care for them, and love them unconditionally. At 27, I still needed my mom for those things too, but she had given me enough guidance during the time that we did have together for me to be able to pick up the pieces and carry on; even though my life would never be the same.
There is a lifetime of emotions that transpire once you receive a cancer diagnosis; from anger to sadness and everything in between. I witnessed my mom go through these emotions during her diagnosis and I find myself experiencing similar emotions. But at a certain point, there is also a sense of resolve – in my mom’s case that resolve unfortunately meant accepting that she was not going to get better.
For me, that resolve means taking a step back from my overly hectic and often stressful life as a full-time working mom. That resolve also means taking time to nourish my mind, body, and soul so that I can heal both mentally and physically from this process. For anyone that knows me, they realize that this is not an easy transition for me to make. I am not one that is comfortable giving up control, relying on others or accepting that I can’t do everything myself. But for the first time in my life, I know there is no other choice.
Like my mom, I am a very private person who is not comfortable asking others for help or showing vulnerability. In fact, because of how quickly my mom’s condition worsened, my brother and I often wondered if she knew much longer than she ever let on to for these very reasons. I have always struggled to accept that she may have suffered silently in order to protect us from the inevitable outcome until she reached a point that the effects of the disease made it impossible to hide. It is a question that I will never get an answer to. Yet 21 years later, I finally understand why, as I make that very same choice with my own kids.
While my boys know that “mommy had surgery on her boobs” and needed time to recover, they do not yet know that it is because I have cancer. Fortunately for me, the scars from my surgery are easy to hide behind clothes and I do not have some of the telltale signs of a cancer diagnosis such as a bald head or a frailer frame from undergoing chemotherapy treatments. For the most part, I have been able to maintain my “business as usual” approach to life. You’ll still find me on the sidelines cheering my boys on at every soccer game and school event.
It is a decision that I have admittedly struggled with because like my mom, I have prided myself on always being honest with my kids. It is also especially challenging on days when my patience is worn thin and exhaustion from the radiation is overwhelming – I want them to understand that it’s not just because “mommy is feeling lazy today.” But it is what I feel is best to protect them until I am safely on the other side of this and they can be assured that I’m going to be okay.
Once my mom’s illness had progressed, she was finally able to allow herself to rely on others and give in to the support that she needed from her close family and friends. While the circumstances surrounding this were incredibly sad, it was beautiful to witness my mom accept the love that she deserved and recognize how important she was to so many people. During my own cancer journey, I too have had to open myself up to asking for help and relying on others – it is during this time that I have come to realize that it is how people treat you in times of hardship not triumph that best distinguishes acquaintances from true friends.
My mom passed away within only three months of her diagnosis. But during that short time, she made sure to live her life to the fullest and left this earth feeling loved and surrounded by the people that meant the most to her. In her last birthday card to me she wrote: “Smile, laugh a lot, enjoy, love and be loved.” In those handful of words, she was leaving me with a legacy of words to live by – words she knew she would never get the chance to say to me again in person.
These words are a reminder that throughout our life, we are often faced with circumstances that we can’t control. But what we can always control is how we chose to respond to those circumstances. It is because of these words that I am choosing to believe that my cancer diagnosis is yet another reminder that I can get through anything and should never take for granted the need to live by her words to “smile, laugh a lot, enjoy, love and be loved.”
Kristin moved to Fairfield from Stamford, CT over three years ago but was born and raised in Hudson, NY. She is a full-time working mom who recently launched her own operations consulting practice so that she could have more flexibility and spend more time being home for her boys. She has spent most of her career in financial services but is most passionate about being an entrepreneur, supporting other female entrepreneurs, and giving back to others through charity work. She is a wife and mom of two boys, ages 8 and 5, and a dog, Comet. She considers herself a “soccer mom” and on the weekends, you can often find her on the sidelines of a soccer game loudly cheering on her two boys (much to her husband’s dismay). When she’s not on the field, she enjoys reading, baking, volunteering, or busting a move to some hip hop on the dance floor.