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Parenting After Breast Cancer


Survivors with children face some of the biggest challenges when it comes to visualizing the future. After my breast cancer diagnosis in 1986, it was my daughter's future, rather than my own, for which I bargained.

Cancer changes the way we look at our future. After all, we have just been assured that we can no longer count on our bodies not to throw us a curveball, and there is even the question of whether we will be here or not.

Anyone who works with survivors knows that women with children face some of the biggest challenges when it comes to visualizing the future. This is because it is not their own life that flashes in front of their eyes—it is their children’s.

When I was diagnosed, I had a 13-month-old and four stepchildren who were very much my own kids. They were 16, 18, 20, and 23 when I was diagnosed. The oldest and youngest were girls and the two in the middle were boys. I had married their father eight years earlier. We had custody of the three oldest and their mother had custody of the youngest.

And I loved them all like my own. The youngest, a girl, was thrilled to have a baby to play with and take care of, which she did most weekends. But it wasn’t the teenagers I worried about. They were mostly grown and had a mother who could take over if I were not around.

It was my biological daughter that was the focus of my fear and my future visions, should I die. She was the focus of all my bargaining. If you are a mother, or a father for that matter, you know what I mean. For years after my diagnosis in 1986, I looked at her and tried to imagine her life without me. When I held her in my arms, the love I had for this child was from some source so deep that it could not be explained. I only knew that until she was born, I did not know I could kill to protect someone I loved. Nor did I know I was capable of blowing bubbles with my spit, making silly faces in the mirror, or missing it when she got too old for me to put a big red lipstick kiss on her cheek as she climbed out of the car in the morning to go to school.

I had fought to live for her, and the days when she would climb into bed with me to cuddle were visceral memories that kept me going on many levels through life’s twists and turns.

It was her future for which I bargained. You will recognize the pattern.

“Please let me live long enough that she will remember me.”

Then it went from there to — “Please let me live long enough for me to see her start school.”

To: “Please let me live long enough to see her start high school.”

To: “Please let me live long enough to see her start college.”

To: “Please let me live long enough to see her turn 21.”

To: “Please let me live long enough to see her find her passion.”

When my daughter graduated from college, it was a big moment for me. It was getting to be close to the bottom of my bargaining list.

I just learned she has been recruited by a major company in the field she loves in New York City where she lives and works.

She has found her passion.

I am at the bottom of the list, but there are no rules here. So now I want to live long enough to see her find the love of her life.

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