Emotional Impact of Being a Mother with Breast Cancer
Fellow blogger Laurie Kingston recently posted a tribute to Andrea Collins Smith—a.k.a. Punk Rock Mommy—that I read with a great deal of trepidation. I find reading about young mothers who die of breast cancer akin to looking into the noonday sun: I can force my face upwards, but inevitably cover my eyes, unable to bear the harsh glare. Any woman still being called Mommy should never die of breast cancer.
Smith, a 38-year-old mother, wrote an online journal (she disliked the word blog) about her metastatic breast cancer, posting a goodbye just hours before her death on July 5. She had upwards of 70,000 readers, an ever-growing groundswell that followed the course of her illness over the past year, during which she went from a diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer to death. Now her husband Kelly is continuing her journal, entitled “Punk Rock Mommy: Andrea Colllins Smith and the Great Cancer Swindle.”
I don’t consider myself particularly cowardly. In fact, during cancer treatment I found out that I’m actually pretty darned strong; not once did I break down and cry. Nor did I miss a day of work, save for surgery; six infusion chemo days, and a week in the hospital with post-chemo pneumonia. Still, once I’d read Laurie’s introduction of Andrea as “mother of six,” a chill rippled through me, forcing me to close my eyes briefly before I could go on. “Mommy” and “metastatic” are two words that should never, EVER go together.
Yet they do. Laurie herself is battling metastatic breast cancer. She has two little boys. She mentioned she’s a member of the group blog Mothers with Cancer. I go there and see more posts, more pictures of moms with cancer. I go back to Laurie’s post, and read these words: “I hope that, when my turn comes, I can face death as bravely and with as much dignity.”
And I feel the chill again.
My breast cancer isn’t metastatic; it hasn’t spread. I was treated 7 years ago. It was aggressive and had gotten into my lymph nodes, so I can’t say I’m cured. But if there are any cancer cells hiding in some dark corner of my body, I have every reason to believe that they’ll stay silent for the rest of my life. I believe I’ll die of something else, not cancer.
But for women whose cancer has spread—to bones, liver, brain, lungs, the places breast cancer goes most often—the belief in a long life is much, much less certain. Yes, a percentage of women with metastatic breast cancer do manage to beat it; I was earlier taken to task by a reader for painting too gloomy a picture of breast cancer that’s spread. So let me emphasize, women with breast cancer “mets” CAN live a long time. But the realization that death can come knocking all too soon is a haunting specter, I’m sure. Especially for women with young children. For mommies.
I’m 55; my son is 22. I don’t need to tuck him into bed at night, scare away the dragons, or kiss boo-boos. If I were to die tomorrow, his life would continue in its present trajectory. I’m very lucky; WE’RE lucky. Laurie, to you and all the young moms out there with metastatic breast cancer, know this: my dream is that you continue to live with cancer as a chronic illness, treating and treating and beating it back, until the cure is finally found. That day can’t come too soon: for all of you young moms with cancer, and for your fellow survivors who care about you.