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I am a typical mother: lunch packer, “owie” healer, book reader, snuggler, cheerer on the sidelines, mom. I wake up early to pack lunches that include jokes or inspiring notes, I think about our kids’ birthdays months before they come, I set alarms to make sure I remember to register for camps, classes, and extracurricular activities. From the outside I’m just like everyone else, except I’m not.
Almost two years ago my son Milo developed enlarged lymph nodes on his neck which continued to grow larger over the following months. (Read more about Milo’s journey in the MACC feature story You’d Never Know I Had Cancer). On December 19, 2019 we received the call from our pediatrician that Milo’s biopsy came back showing Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma. At that moment, I felt so sacred and alone. Parents are supposed to be their children’s protectors. How could I have let this happen? Our son was too little, too innocent. The news felt like a puzzle with so many jagged pieces to put together and think about.
I had 20 minutes until I had to be at our daughters’ school for pick up and my husband didn’t answer my call because he was in a meeting. I knew I needed to get this cancer news off my chest so I could be there for my girls. Once I started driving I instinctively called my dad. It’s ironic to reflect on this story on Mother’s Day because it was intentional not to call my mom in a 20 minute frenzy when I declared I was not going to cry. My mom is my blanket. She always has a tissue for my tears and an ear ready to listen, but in my moment of trying to be strong, I needed a rock, my dad. I remember my dad’s response. He didn’t say “sorry”, or “that sucks”, or “oh my gosh.” He responded, “he’s so strong, he is going to do great.”
We waited until the next day to tell Milo and his big sisters, Elena, and Luisa (who at the time were 5 and 7) about his cancer diagnosis. Their first question to us was, “Is he going to die?” It was gut-wrenching. No parent should have to tell their children that their sibling could die. The odds were in our favor, but there are no guarantees. This was a hard concept for me to grasp, let alone children. They all grew up that day. Life was no longer innocent, easy, and fun. Their eyes were opened to see that there are diseases and harmful things that can happen to any person. And yet, we still had soccer games, gymnastics carpools, nap schedules and homework.
Life was so busy and required so much attention to detail that we didn’t have much time to stop and process what was even happening. We did what we had to do to keep our family in good spirits. We worked as a team and tried to make the most of every moment together. I had my secret moments of sadness, mostly when I’d drive home after my hospital shift. I’d cry. I was exhausted from sleeping on a couch. The mental load of making sure Milo took his medications and that the girls got time with us weighed heavily on me.
I often think of that unit kids do in preschool or kindergarten, “same, same but different” in terms of our life post cancer. They do it to work on sorting and seeing patterns. Such as: these shapes are both circles, but one is red and one is green. If someone saw me at school pick up, I look just like the other moms, but I feel so different. I’ve had to let other parents care for Milo’s two big sisters and I’ve worried for months that cancer would take our littlest away from us. Our lives were the same but so, so different.
Milo just turned 5 and is officially one year cancer free. He is back to running around the playground. He’s been bald, had a central line, dressing changes, shots, ECHOs, scans, chemo, and slept in a hospital for 28 nights. I know that he is at risk for life-long side effects from his cancer treatment. He’s the same, but different. It is a part of him that he gets to hold and share. It is a reminder that in our own way, we are all the same but different. It reminds me to teach our kids to be kind, give grace and embrace the uniqueness each person’s story brings them.
Being a mom is the hardest job in the world and being a cancer mom added a new level of tough to that. It’s a club I didn’t ask to join but I’m better for having joined. Cancer taught me that we can’t protect our children from hurt or disease. All we can do is be there with them through it. I will never be the same nor do I want to be. Our family is better for having gone through what we did. We are the same strong, positive family we’ve always been. Just a bit better than before.
Good days or bad days I get to call Elena, Luisa, and Milo my children. I get to be their mother, their blanket, their healer, consoler, and cheerleader for life just like my mom still is for me. Who thought I’d come out of this experience feeling so lucky?
Blog submitted by Sina. Thank you for sharing your hurt, your heart, and your love for your children with all of us.