Moving On From Painful Cancer Memories

A mother explains how difficult it is to forget about the painful memories of her daughter's cancer experience and how she is moving forward, one step at a time.

My daughter, Adrienne, came for a visit last weekend. It was cool but sunny out and we decided to head out to the backyard with hot chocolate to sit around the fire pit. She was out there before I was, and as I walked toward the circle to join my family, I looked over and saw her laughingly telling a story, full of the joy of the afternoon. I was stopped in my tracks, awash in a wave of anxiety and nausea, because to ward off the chill she had put a beanie on her head.

One of the same beanies she wore to ward off the chill when her hair was taken by the chemotherapy medication used to save her life.

I walked forward and sat down with my family, thankful that no one had seen the blood drain out of my face a moment before. I wanted so desperately to ask Adrienne to take the beanie off but I knew that it was my memory, my association with the nightmare, my feelings that were in play and that it wouldn’t be fair to give them to her. The old saying that misery loves company does not apply to our cancer memories. What’s mine has to stay mine.

Once I had calmed my mind enough to be present, I thought about how amazing it was that she had been able to choose to shrug off the link between her cancer experience and all those cute beanies we bought to cover her very bald head in a funky, young way. The fact that she can put one on and see only how she looks now instead of seeing the puffy, hairless face staring back at her from the mirror is a wonder to me. There is such a direct connection between the beanies and treatment that I would have thought that, like the cancer socks that brought her to the floor in a flood of tears when she saw them in her drawer a year after treatment ended, she would never be able to move on from the reason for the beanies being in her closet. But she has, and I find it incumbent upon me to do the same.

I suppose she could feel the same way looking at my favorite shoes, which I bought when I was living with her in the middle of treatment and wear constantly. Or the necklace I bought from a vendor in the hospital lobby as we were leaving the radiation oncology ward. She could shudder at the scratch tickets I put in her stocking because they were a tradition for chemo appointments or the leggings that were my go-to every day. I know they were part of our lives during the darkest of times but I have been able cancel out any negative connection, just like she has with the beanies.

As I wander further down that path, I realize that it might be time for me to challenge some of my other cancer memories and move on from their association with one of the worst periods of my life. When I feel that flash of despair, the tears threatening, the anxiety gnawing at my peace, I will close my eyes and say to myself, “If she can wear a beanie, you can face this.” I have taken my cues from her every step of the way since her diagnosis. I have walked beside her or carried her when she needed me to but let go when she needed to do it on her own. Now maybe I can let her reach out her hand to guide me through this next part of the way forward and we can move on, together, from some of what might seem silly to the rest of the world but is part of a much bigger, painful picture that only she and I can see.

And hey, maybe that will mean I’ll get to eat pizza again! For the win!

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