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Parenting With Cancer: Overcoming Mommy Guilt


Cancer has a profound effect on the youngest members of the family, especially when you go from swim Mom to sick Mom overnight.

I started the school year on Sept. 1, 2017 with a color-coded and laminated drop-off schedule hung up on our refrigerator door. Three knapsacks, each name embroidered in different colored thread, were packed with new school supplies and lined up neatly next to our front door. Lunch boxes were filled with their favorite foods, water bottles were chilled and all books were covered, labeled and stacked based on days they were needed.

This year, I told myself, I'm going to right all the wrongs from last year and parent like a boss.

I'm not a “Pinterest Mom” by any means, but by the first week of November I had worked out all of the kinks in our daily schedule. Our house was running like a well-oiled machine; I had drop off and pick up at after school activities down to the second, dinners planned and cooked for the kids’ supper time, and all knapsacks packed and ready each night before our three children went to sleep.

Our children were thriving, and I was enjoying their little milestones: participating in my son's fourth birthday party at his nursery school, watching my 6-year-old do the crawl unassisted during her swim lessons and peeking through the window to catch my daughter's very first pirouette in dance class.

My entire mommy universe took a big hit with my cancer diagnosis in early November. All the hard work and time that I had spent creating a routine that worked well for everyone in our family was shattered in an instant, and we were faced with uncertainty and tremendous upheaval.

As we adjusted to what our world during cancer treatment looks like, our ambitious after school schedule was one of the first things to get cut, and no one was spared. Gone were swim lessons for our 6-year-old while our 9-year-old could only attend one dance class a week instead of two. Once I started treatment, I stopped driving our car, and so we began to rely on babysitters and family and friends to shuttle the children home from school. On treatment days, when I have to be in the hospital before the first bell rings, we have to coordinate with the kids' grandparents and great aunts and uncles to pitch in to make sure they get to class on time.

Mentally, I take note of all of the things I've had to miss due to treatment side effects and hospitalization. I've been absent from school plays and multiple meet the teacher nights, and I've felt useless when I couldn't volunteer to chaperone a school trip or host play dates. But it's the small, daily things that truly get to me, like the mornings after chemo when I can't get out of bed to make lunches or wave the children off to school.

I've been living in a perpetual state of mommy guilt since my cancer diagnosis and as my mommy duties have been put on pause during cancer treatment, other parents have selflessly stepped in to help pick up the slack. We've been so fortunate to have so many friends, mostly parents of our children's friends, sign up to make us dinners, offer to host play dates and drive our children home from school.

As our children continue to grow, my hope is that when they look back at what is a very difficult and dark period in their lives, that they don't focus on the fact that Mommy was sick. Instead, I hope they look at it as the time in their lives when their friend's mommies and daddies came out in droves to help.

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