Mother’s Day With Cancer: Not Just Another Day


After going through cancer, Mother’s Day feels a bit different.

cartoon drawing of blogger and gynecologic cancer survivor, Doris White

As everybody in the entire United States who ever had a mother appears to be preparing to celebrate that woman on Mother’s Day (and rightfully so, may I add), this cancer patient is particularly sentimental about the cultural phenomenon. I am a mother because, when I conceived my daughter and son, my reproductive organs had not yet been overtaken by a coup led by some thuggish, rogue cells. My two young’uns were delivered when I was 30 and 35 because I had not yet been relieved of uterus, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes and a few lymph nodes.

Now, at 65 and post-chemotherapy, the approaching special Sunday feels truly different.

On this Mother’s Day, I am beyond grateful that cancer had not reared its ugly head back in the early years of marriage when my husband and I were most interested in starting our family. How would I have coped if I had not had a womb in which to incubate my babies? If my cervix and uterus had betrayed my family-planning dreams, it is a sure bet that I would not be quite as sanguine about my cancer odyssey as I am now, 16 years after my menses ceased naturally. I think of that as I listen to younger women describe the personal crises generated by treatment plans amounting to planned infertility. Their poignant stories make me want to wrap my arms around them and to make such agony less prevalent through education and advocacy in my community.

It is also important to highlight the special burden borne by a young adult whose mother is journeying through cancer. Everyone anticipates that a small child may be frightened by an ailing parent, but so can the grown daughter or son who has some basic understanding that a cancer diagnosis may very well prove terminal.

Last Mother’s Day, my daughter was celebrating her first special day with her infant son (our first grandchild!) while also packing to come to Texas to be with me after the hysterectomy. She probably feared the very real statistical possibility that I would not be here in May 2023. With the maturity firstborns often possess, she managed to be a great support despite her fears.

On the other end of the spectrum, our 20-something son really freaked out when he learned of my diagnoses last year. We all had to talk him down off the emotional ledge as he tried to process that his mother — I who always donned a cape and pasted that “S” on my chest in difficult times —was in fact a mere mortal with a major health condition. Family Skype sessions helped alleviate most of his fears, as he was able to see that my bald head did not look weird, my spirit was positive, and I still resembled the woman he called Mom. He became my diet guru, sending me protein powders and smoothie recipes from his life as a personal trainer.

Yes, this Mother’s Day is very different than those of the past. Gone are the days when my little children would run home from school with hand-made ceramics and decorated cards just for me. Long gone are the years when I took for granted that my reproductive organs would always be housed in my body. But, despite the malignant tissues and the difficult treatments, I am still here and eager to demonstrate how life extends far beyond fertility.

Motherhood is much more a state of mind than merely an act of the body. And cancer has made me all the more appreciative of the difference.

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