How Cancer Changed Me as a Parent


Living with advanced cancer has shifted how I view the passage of time and the growth of my children.

My amazing little girls just turned four, and I was thrilled to share this milestone with them. There was a time not long ago when I doubted I would see this day.

When I was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer in the spring of 2013, my son was 4 and my twin girls were newly 2. My daughters were still sleeping in cribs, still and diapers, still my little babies.

That summer my worldview shifted dramatically, and my view of my children growing up followed suit. Now, I no longer mourn the passing days of their childhood. Like many parents, I used to have a twinge of sadness when the little ones passed milestones, knowing that they were one day closer to growing up and leaving home. Now, instead of sadness I feel a twinge of relief and a boatload of joy, for each one is another moment that I am still here to experience. It is as if the faster they grow, the more of their lives I will get to see. As if they could only grow fast enough, they might outpace my cancer.

I was still here to see my girls learn to ride tricycles — and ride they did! First days of school, first time on the bus, first time at a movie theatre, graduating to a big kid bed, getting rid of cribs, learning to use the potty, learning to jump, learning to read, learning to write. All these are achievements not only for my kids, but for our whole family. Because we got to see each of these as a whole family.

I look at my son and I see the baby face disappearing before my eyes, and glimpses of the young man he will become peek out at me.

I see the feisty sprit of my little girl, and her focus and determination resonate in my soul; it’s the same fire that burns in me. Looking in her eyes is looking in a mirror, and I dream of the woman she will one day be.

I snuggle with my daughter, and feel her little fingers gripping mine. Her breathing shifts, her grip loosens, and she drifts off to sleep. These tiny remnants of babyhood surface and fade away.

These fleeting moments….

I remember one day when the girls were infants and Jason and I were ridiculously sleep deprived (like all twin parents) and going a little crazy (like all twin parents). I said to Jason, "Can you imagine if we had an unplanned pregnancy? That is the WORST thing that could happen to this family." He stopped and stared at me. "I can think of much worse things than an unplanned pregnancy that could happen to our family." Oh yeah, perspective. He is so good at that. Who would have guessed that a much worse thing was waiting in the wings?

I think about my young friends whose dreams of having babies have been cut short by cancer. I think of the young children whose futures have been erased by disease. I think of all the moms and dads with cancer who have left this world, leaving small children to grow up without them.

I think of all this, and I celebrate my children growing up. Because I am so proud of the people they are becoming. Because they bring me so much joy. Because I am here to experience it.

Tori Tomalia is many things: a mom, a wife, a theatre artist, a mediocre cook, a Buffy fan, a stinky cheese aficionado. She is also, unfortunately, a repeat visitor to Cancerland. Stay tuned for her continued adventures.



Blog: "A Lil Lytnin' Strikes Lung Cancer"

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