Fueled by weep-inducing prednisone, I’d grab a box tissues and tip-toe downstairs while my husband, Pete, and our kids, Nicholas, then 10, and Christopher, 8, slept. Sometimes, I’d go online, visiting places like the fabulous message boards at Planet Cancer for somebody, anybody, who had any idea how you’re supposed to parent when you have cancer.
I had stage three non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that went undetected for too long. Doctors thought that I had Lyme’s disease or later, pneumonia, but nobody thought that this otherwise healthy 40-year-old mother had a tumor the size of a softball in her left lung. Nobody knew that I had about two months left to live.
“I’d go online looking for somebody, anybody, who had any idea how you’re supposed to parent when you have cancer.”
I spent much of that June in the hospital with five-day infusions of some of the nastiest of chemotherapy drugs out there. If you could make a dirty bomb out of chemo drugs, this is the stuff you’d put in it. The stuff that makes your hair fall out, your muscle tone disappear and your emotions turn to tears in the wee hours of the night.
That’s when I Googled “parenting with cancer,” and mostly came up with information for parents whose children had cancer. There was one book, a great one by Dr. Wendy Harpham called, “When a Parent Has Cancer,” which I ordered around 3 o’clock one weekday morning. And there were a handful of sites with information about parenting with cancer, but no one clearinghouse for it all. I swore then that if I made it out alive, I’d change that.
I’ve been in remission for nearly three-and-a-half years now. My kids are in middle school and doing alright. (If having a water gun fight in the yard in near darkness is alright, then they are fantastic at this very moment.) As a family, we have had to navigate the ups and the downs of parenting with cancer, and now I want to share with you how that can be done. And it can be done, no matter how you feel right now, you there with a box of tissues, wandering the house at night, crying, so your kids don’t see you do it during the day.
In time, ParentingWithCancer.com will be the site I looked for in the middle of the night when I had cancer. It will include articles by healthcare and psychological experts and stories from parents like you who have survived cancer. There’ll be information for spouses and caregivers, children, friends and family — pretty much anyone who loves a parent with cancer.
It will be uplifting, heart-wrenching, realistic, sad, happy, and all that wrapped into one. Because there is no one way to parent with cancer, just as there’s no one type of cancer. There’s just us, a community for parenting with cancer. And for now, that’s just what we’ve been looking for.