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Bedtime Worries: Somehow We Always Come Back to Cancer

Bedtime worries are always tough, but when the fear of cancer recurrence is always lingering in the background, they seem so much worse.
PUBLISHED: JUNE 15, 2016
I like to think I’m a pretty good mom. But I’ve never been one of those “I love the bath and bedtime routine with two books, three songs and a drink of water” kind of moms. I send my kiddos upstairs with a hug and a kiss, and somewhere between 8 and 8:30 p.m., I clock out. So when my worrying boy starts down the stairs around 9 p.m. a couple nights a week, I sigh and my husband and I take bets on what the problem might be. Sometimes it’s school, a squabble with a neighborhood friend or a to-be-determined worry, when he doesn’t know what, but something is worrying him, he’s sure. Once he came downstairs nearly in tears, certain that one ear was lower than the other. A few quick measurements, and he was headed back upstairs, reassured.

So tonight when he came downstairs, I breathed the same big sigh and wondered what he would have to worry about this time. His eyes welling with tears as he told me he was sad his friend was moving. Rats. That’s a totally legit, hard thing. No quick use of the measuring tape will make that go away. We talked a little bit and I sent him back upstairs, hoping he’d fall asleep. But as my bedtime neared, I heard him still crying in bed. Tired from a long day and well past my normal “mommying” clock-out time, I crawled into bed with him.

“It’s just too hard not to think about it,” he told me, “I can’t think about what it will be like without him around.”

And then I startled myself, nearly sobbing out loud, without any warning. I pretended I was crying because I’ll miss his friend’s mom, which I totally will. But that sob caught in my throat as I wondered what he would do if I died. I couldn’t imagine this devastated little boy crying over me and facing life without me around. I tried to get out my measuring tape, reassuring myself that I can now measure more than three years without evidence of disease. He will mourn me as a man, I told myself, not a little boy. And yet I was left haunted, fighting tears and angry. I wonder when I will escape. I wonder when a day will pass that I don’t worry about the return of my cancer and what that would do to my precious little family.

It may not be surprising, given my disdain for an extended bedtime routine, but I also don’t ever sleep in my kids’ beds. Even though I check on them when they’re sick, and I wake up at the slightest noise, I always sleep in my own bed. But when I climb the stairs tonight, it’s going to take all my willpower not to climb back into the bottom bunk with my nine-year-old and fall asleep with my head next to his on his turtle pillow pet, so that we can face the morning together.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
As a PhD student in tumor biology, Jamie Holloway survived long hours researching breast cancer in the labs of Georgetown University. Ten years later, after being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, she survived that too. Now with no evidence of disease, she shares a patient's perspective with scientists and clinicians as a breast cancer research advocate. A wife, mother, runner, and lipstick addict, she shares her story from the perspective of both a patient and a scientist.
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