By Sarah Mowat
We were having lunch with friends recently. The kids all went off in different directions, attempting various perilous toddler style ‘mission impossible’ stunts. My husband, Nick and I have a sweet and shy three year old, Evie, and a wild and wonderful almost 2 year old, Isobel. Whilst observing this nail biting display of toddler theatrics, we discussed the realities of parenting; the beauty, love, worry and exhaustion that intertwine and add a whole new meaning to our existence. One friend, suddenly exclaimed, ‘How in the world did you do this whilst going through cancer treatment?’
I was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma when Evie was about to turn two and Isobel was nearly 3 months old. It was undoubtedly hard having cancer thrust into our lives while trying to navigate the world as new parents, but we accepted help, and the memories of fun times still overshadow the chemo and tear-hazed ones. In fact, it was having the girls love me so wholeheartedly, in spite of my comically receding hairline, milk-free breasts and scarred neck, that gave me the strength to get through treatment with a smile. Fishing duplo bricks out of the toilet is a great distraction from chemo weariness.
Evie and Isobel serve as a constant reminder for me to embrace the present – to live, love, laugh, cry, be kind and explore. After my first post chemo haircut, Evie’s unimpressed reaction ‘It’s not so good mummy’ was a hilarious and somewhat refreshing reaction in contrast to the overwhelming flow of compliments I’d received from kind hearted friends. On Mother’s Day last year, Evie picked a bunch of dandelions for me. Seeing her standing proudly, mud across her face with a small vase of weeds made me feel overcome with appreciation. It was the first Mother’s Day she had been old enough to pick her own gift and I felt so happy to be alive. It was not long after that I received the news I was officially in remission.
The experience of being a mother with cancer seems to peel away most of life’s expendables, leaving such a bare, exposed love for the girls that it actually makes this parenting business a little more primal and simple. As Mother’s Day comes around, it symbolizes another year of their childhood I have had the good fortune to experience. As they grow, so does my gratitude for the medical professionals, researchers and organizations such as The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) who pave the way for progress in the treatment, patient care and ultimate search for a cure for blood cancers.
Sarah Mowat lives in St. Charles, IL, with her husband, Nick, and their daughters, Evie and Isobel.
THE GIFT OF LIFE
By Cathy dePasquale
It is positive! Words that I had nearly given up on hearing were told to me on October 31, 2000. My pregnancy was fairly normal. In fact, I felt great. I expected to gain the consummate 30 pounds, but was proud to have only added 13. My appetite was lacking, which I chalked up to hormones, but I ate healthy to nourish our growing child. The last trimester was exhausting and I had very little energy.
All fairly typical. Or, so I thought.
Our Nicholas entered this world on July 9, 2001, weighing in at a whopping 9.3 pounds. I thought two things. First, we are blessed to have received this gift of life and we would cherish it. Second, of the 13 pounds I gained, 9.3 of it was baby!
Go ME! Or, so I thought.
We were ecstatic for the first several months. Our baby was thriving and we were adjusting well to parenthood. While I was literally exhausted, I chalked it up again to the lack of sleep and normal worry of new parenthood. There wasn’t much baby weight to come off, yet by the time I returned to work 12 weeks later, I was down 35 pounds.
This is great! Or, so I thought.
It is positive! On June 5, 2002, I heard “You have cancer. Hodgkin lymphoma. The good kind.” I thought, what’s good about cancer? Not words anyone ever wants to hear, and certainly words that cause a new mother to pause and reflect on what’s to come. Is Nicholas at greater risk of getting cancer or did I already give him cancer? Will I die and leave him without a mother? How will I tell my loved ones?
I knew I had only one choice. I would fight and I would beat it. And, I did. After six months of chemo, and a lot of questioning about how this could happen to me, by the work of science and the grace of God, I made it through. Fourteen years later, I’m considered CURED!
I learned so many life lessons that have helped form me into the mother and woman I am today. You never know what tomorrow will bring, so I try to be grateful for every day that I wake up and watch my child grow. I try to remember that everyone is going through something in life, so I’ve encouraged Nicholas from a young age to be caring, have compassion, and to not judge. Our boy is now a young man, and has brought so much love and happiness to our lives. Indescribable, unconditional, love. Motherhood has been truly amazing. Lots of fun times, many memories, and even some surprises!
It is positive! The gift of life. Love to the fullest.
Cathy dePasquale, SVP at Flushing Bank, lives in Amity Harbor, NY, with her husband Donn, Nicholas (14), and two labrador retrievers, Jack and Wilson.
A SPECIAL MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOND
By Lisa S.
For 20 years, I have gotten a Mother's Day card that would bring any mother to her knees.
In 1996, after my daughter Jessica had just turned 14, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. She traded in blue nail polish and Steve Madden shoes for a wig, and with months of ongoing treatment, it was the worst of times for the whole family. All arguing and fighting came to a halt and we brought home a spunky golden retriever named Winnie, who basically served as a therapy dog.
What has transpired since then has turned our attention to being grateful for every day. My daughter has grown to be curious about life, always trying new things. This once quiet kid who never stepped out of her comfort zone became fearless about life and living it fully. In family conversation, we often refer to things being “before” or “after” Jess.
We are very close indeed and I’m proud to say there’s an incredible bond between this mother and child. Every year for many years now we have been going on a mother-daughter trip to someplace with a beach. On vacation she likes to take charge of where we sit, what "I" should eat and what we should do. She isn’t shy about noting that my grooming is not up to her standards -- I should be more careful shaving my legs, my eyebrows are uneven or my lipstick is a little too dark. She is always witty in her delivery and we end up laughing into the night!
Now grown up and successful in her own life, Jess also shares her hopes and dreams for the future and looks forward to having a family of her own.
Over the past 20 years I have often looked at the scar that marks where the port that delivered her chemotherapy drugs was inserted so long ago. When I asked her if she would like to remove it, she looked at me like I was crazy and said, "I see this every day and it’s a reminder of how lucky I am. It's my survivor's badge.”
Looking back, I see how the whole experience made better people out of all of us, and I thank God every day as my prayers have been answered. It's truly the best of times.
Lisa S. lives on Long Island in New York with her husband and has three other children, Stacy, Daniel and Shyl.