Way back in that far away place stood a stunned mother, desperately trying to understand, to cope and to still look to the future when the world had narrowed to a small hospital room with a narrow bed and an even smaller boy.
I found out this week that even over 10 years later this same stunned mother still stands, frozen with emotion at times. I think I’m doing fine: I can’t really say I’m “normal” because, well, who among us can claim that, but I function quite well, thank you very much. I teach and I write and I hang with my kids and I sing and I’m, well, shoot, I really am normal!
But then, just when things are plugging along and feeling normal, along comes that word. That C word: Cancer. And even more specifically, that L word: Leukemia. And those rushing whirling feelings return. They’re different now, but they’re there.
Way back, in those far away and fuzzy times, one of our blessings was a very supportive community. A part of this community was my husband’s vice-principal who took on any task needed in order to ease our cancer caregiving burdens through that first year of chemotherapy for our four-year-old boy. His wife understood and quietly helped whenever she was able and prayed for us often.
So when I saw her Facebook post this last week, about a student’s shocking leukemia diagnosis, you can imagine how my mind took flight to those long ago, whirl-wind days of learning our son was fighting each moment in an internal war. I instant-messaged my friend, and we began to dialogue and she told me she’d already shared a piece of my journey with the ‘new mother’. The mother I imagine stands in a horrifying swirl of new vocabulary, new schedules and a new “normal”. Could she connect us to each other?
Oh my, yes.! Because in that whirling foggy world of a cancer diagnosis, one can always use an anchor of someone who’s been there. Someone who’s come out the other side. Someone who understands that in spite of the most amazing community of support one can feel alone. Someone who knows what it feels like to hold your child while they’re poked with needles. Someone who’s worn gloves in order to touch their child. Someone who’s discouraged visitors from the isolation room of the cancer ward. Someone who’s watched a Disney movie for the 4, 875th time. Someone who would give ANYTHING to be in that bed in place of their child. Someone who has been forever changed by their journey and can offer support and yes, tell you that you’ll be okay. So here’s my letter to every new cancer caregiver mom out there:
Dear Caregiver Mom;
Your “normal” will be different, in ways you’re only beginning to understand, and really, as much as you tell yourself to hang on until life “returns to normal”, you’ll gradually realize it won’t ever return to the way it was; but you’ll be okay.
Your cancer education, started this week, will continue with an intensity that will startle you and then all of the sudden you’ll be the one reminding the doctors of the treatment protocol and you’ll know all the medication names and you’ll have the schedule memorized and your life will revolve around doctors and hospitals, fevers and blood counts; and you’ll be okay.
Complete strangers will become some of your best friends and you will see beauty in a whole new way because of the giving spirit of people and you’ll know the nurses by the sound of their footsteps and you’ll get mad at insurance agents and wonder who in the world you’ve become, but the new you is going to be okay.
You and God might have some intense conversations and you might not agree with Him, you might yell or cry and you’ll definitely laugh with tears; and through every step of this horrible journey of mothering and caregiving your leukemic son, God will never leave you nor forsake you, and you’ll be okay.
I would like to tell you that your son will be healed and his miraculous story will guide him through the next 85 years, but we don’t know that yet do we? What we know is that God loves your boy and God loves you and no matter the outcome of this horrid process of leukemia treatment, you ALL will be okay. God promises eternal love and so you will be all right.
You’re stronger than you ever imagined, and you can do things you never expected, and in the end, you’ll be okay.
That’s the thing, dear reader, whatever you’re facing, no matter how you feel in this moment right now, in the end you WILL BE okay. God’s got you. God’s got the one you love. You’ll all be okay.
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