Special thanks to the very special Hero moms who shared their wisdom and lessons with us: Miriam Matz, mother to Ellie; Laurie Thompson, mother to Caelin; Keren Fitzgerald, mother to Cole; Stephanie Cassabria, mother to Nico; Trish Cartafalsa, mother to Ryan; Dina Dodd, mother to Owen, Lauren Boerlin, mother to Nathaniel, Tish Hearne, mother to Thomas; Heather Banaszek, mother to CJ.
If you asked any hero mom—those mothers with children battling childhood cancer—who their hero was, they would each have the same answer:
If you asked these hero moms what they would change in their lives—obviously they’d each wish cancer away. However, they’d never wish the lessons away. Motherhood is the toughest job (right in line with fatherhood). Toss childhood cancer in the mix and the entire journey changes; what’s considered normal becomes something else entirely.
We talked to a group of hero moms to find out what they learned from mothering through, during and after childhood cancer. Here are ten motherhood lessons from childhood cancer:
1. Our children have far more strength than we do and we draw our strength from them. We watch them endure treatments that would destroy us; yet they do it everyday and still find the strength to play, laugh and be kids.
2. Hold on to hope tightly, without fear. The love for our children helps us move mountains and the hope for a cure for our children and all children keeps us moving forward. Look towards the future—make plans and keep dreaming big, no matter what is thrown in your path.
3. Childhood is beautiful. Kids want to be kids. No matter how sick and awful they feel, they take any opportunity possible to feel normal and to be happy.
4. Time spent with your family, whether in a waiting room or a hospital bed or at home or away, is the greatest gift of all. Treatment brings so many quiet moments when you can truly focus on each other.
5. It takes a community; when one feels included and supported anything is possible. We never fight alone. We need help and we know we can’t be afraid to ask for it and conversely, to offer it when we can to other mothers. New friendships form, old friendships deepen and strangers really are kind, loving and available, when you least expect it.
6. There are no right words. Even though we’ve been through childhood cancer, we still struggle with the right words to say to grieving friends. We know sometimes there is nothing to say. It is okay to simply offer a listening ear and friendship.
7. Never feel guilty taking time for yourself. Self-care, meditation, stress relief, naps and even just a warm cup of tea in a quiet place are all critical to your health and your ability to embrace hope and order in the midst of chaos. Never feel guilty.
8. You will negotiate, challenge, lobby and love on your child’s behalf, but they are the ones who will fight the battle. Your love for your child will carry you to the battle line; but it is their fight and you will learn to observe and guide them while letting go of expectations and living in the glow of their strengths.
9. Pretty much everything in life seems small when your child’s life is on the line. Regular life and its expectations continue to march on when your child is in treatment; but you have a clear understanding of what is important and what is not.
10. During diagnosis, treatment, recovery and even in death, our children teach us some of the greatest lessons and give us the greatest gift: calling us Mom. There is nothing more we need. We just need to be their moms.
Happy Mother’s Day to the amazing Hero Moms, who fight along their child and support the fight for cures for all children battling childhood cancer.