Ellie is just like every other Mom in that she juggles all sorts of things, from kids’ schedules to work/life balance. Except she does it all while caring for a child with cancer. On her own blog, she tells stories of her family’s day-to-day with style, grace, and compassion.
Today, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, and especially the Moms who have the added complexity of pediatric cancer, we’ve decided to let her tell a Mother’s Day story on the St. Baldrick’s blog.
Early in the spring when the trees were just starting to bloom and it still looked like winter in Chicago, I drove through the night, late and dark, to get my cancer child to the nation’s capitol. It was an invite that we could hardly wait to accept and did not want to refuse, but Chase was not totally cleared to fly with some pieces of his clinical picture still floating nebulously only four weeks after a surgery that took his entire thyroid, so we bundled him into a rental car and drove by the light of the moon like our lives depended on it.
It had been six-and-a-half long years since doctors first spoke the words “There’s a large mass” over the hurting head of our (then) two-year-old son. And just about the time I was actually starting to accept that we were really, truly not going to be a relapse statistic, Chase changed the game and the numbers when his routine MRI showed cancer in his thyroid; not a relapse, but a whole new battle on a different front.
And as we first faced this new battle, it was extra wearying in its extra-ness – in the fact that it wasn’t the first or even the worst – it was just more and awful. And I began to disappear into the despair of it: the solitary feeling of endlessness that seems to be standard fare in the world of childhood cancer. So it came as a surprising heart’s balm to end up in Washington, at a historic table and hear Vice Presidential words I didn’t even fully understand that I needed until that moment.
“Do you know how brave you are?”
These gentle, innocuous words might not seem like much, but in the time they were given, over the head of my cancer boy like a benediction, I felt seen – known.
Cancer is so raw and visceral, and sometimes, in the midst of this cellular terrorism, we – the mothers, the often caregivers, the tireless, soulful ones who bore the babies and now bear the pain – we turn painfully invisible. It becomes a battle to breathe, a fight for the next words, just a minute to rest and too little comfort. And in that place of emotional vertigo, we tend to forget ourselves.
So, I will ask you, as Mr. Pence asked: “Do you know how brave you are?”
And then I will tell you what a dear cancer mama friend writes to me on the regular: “I see you.”
You, sister mama, are so brave even you let the frustrated, angry, heartsick tears fall like a bath on the top of a bald head.
Like a warrior, you stand in the middle of lab coats during rounds and checks and say “this is my child and I know them best and brightest.”
Rogue cells do not defeat you and you sure as hell and high water don’t lose to the un-payable, overwhelming medical bills stacked high. Solidarity, sister mama. Nobody can put a price on life, though they try.
When they try all the things that are clinically known to do, and then you push for all the things that are just being learned, because like the ancient love words from an ancient book, you believe all things, hope all things; endure all things… for the sake of your precious hospital-bound human being. And failure can’t be an option.
I see you brave, with your weary arms too full.
I see you strong, with your grieving arms too empty.
You, in the conversations with used-to-be-friends when you just can’t find words beyond “fine” – even thought it’s absolutely not fine – I see you there too.
You, when you don’t know what to do, but you have to keep doing it all anyway.
You, when thinking about all the treatment possibilities come more second nature than thinking about what’s for dinner.
You, when you walk so hand-in-hand with the terminal and ‘zero curative options’ that you sometimes, mercifully, forget the breath-taking horror of it all.
You, with the beating, bleeding heart cry that these things should not exist – even though they do – and in your beloved child, no less.
Dear ones, I see you.
Do you know how brave you are?
You don’t need to be strong for the whole day right now, just the next moment … and then the moment after that … just this next breath, okay? You can do this, not because there is no choice, but because you are strong even in your weakest moments, you are brave even in the most fearful times, and you never give up even when there’s nothing left to hold on to.
You are mother. And you are not alone.
And I see you, brave one.